ON SIGHT AND INSIGHT: A JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF BLINDNESS

Oxford, One World Books July 1997, reprinted 2001; xiv + 234pp ISBN: 1 85168 141 8 Buy this book

This is a revised and considerably enlarged edition of Touching the Rock (1990). It is about one third again as long with two completely new chapters and many editions. Rather than concentrating upon the experience of loss of sight, it now tends to emphasise the features of the state of blindness. On Sight is translated into Chinese (2000) and into Korean (2002), and the English edition was reprinted in 2001.

 

On Sight & Insight

Thunder over Koster 13 August 1991

The slow Scandinavian sun had gone down in a glory of colour. It must have been remarkable, because even Thomas said 'Cor!' They described it to me. The clouds were piled up on banks, as if they were upside down, in layers ranging from red and gold through the purest light green and grey-blue. It was very still. The sun sets silently; the planet turns smoothly.

Now at last they were all in bed. I had told the final story and Marilyn had done the final late-night round with the mosquito repellent. Imogen and I were going through one of her philosophy texts when she exclaimed ‘What was that? Something's happened! There it is again - wow! What a flash!’ She turned to the window.

‘It’s lightning,’ Marilyn said. ‘It must be. It must be sheet lightning. But there’s no sound, no thunder. Now there's a whole series of them- the whole island is lit up. I can’t see any forks or sheets of lightning; just the flash itself.’

‘I’m going to listen,’ I said, moving to the door and stepping outside. The night was completely still. There was no breeze, no gulls; even the sea had shrunk to a quiet murmur. I made myself comfortable leaning on the wall and waited. Occasionally, Imogen and Marilyn called out ‘It’s still flashing, even brighter.’ I waited. I wanted to hear the first sound.

There was something, but what? Was it a sound or just a tremor in the air? Had I heard it or felt it? Did it come from above or below? It was a tremor, but whether on the earth or the air I could not say.

It came again, very deep and echoey, a distant door opening on silent hinges, revealing for a moment a huge vaulted chamber, and then closing just as silently. It was as though the lid had been lifted momentarily from a profound cavern within which could be heard the deep shaking of the surge. The lid was replaced without a sound, without an effort, and the . island waited breathlessly.

Far away, perhaps on the mainland, perhaps up in the mountains, there were muffled drums. I thought of the passage in The Lord of the Rings where deep inside the mountains Gandalf and his party heard the muffled drums of the approaching orcs. It was so distant that it was sure to pass us by. Perhaps that was why there had been flashes without any visible stroke of lightning: it was too distant. They were looking for us but they would not find us. They were too far away.

But now the tremor had grown to a murmur and the murmur into a grumble. It had a bouncy quality, as if huge muffled stones were being rolled down vast fields. I thought of Thor and of the ancient people, listening long ago and waiting.

Suddenly the thunder sprang. The muffled stones had been a manoeuvre to distract my attention while the main force of the enemy stole up unnoticed. A long peal of thunder disturbed the air, no longer low upon the distant fields but at a height, as if rising up to attack. The trees stirred uneasily. Waves of wind broke across the tree-tops, coming closer then fizzing over the house, leaving a swirling trail of restlessness behind. The wind carried a fragrance in it, the scent of the heather, of seaweed and salt, the aroma of the fir trees. The first drops of rain fell on my face and pattered on the wooden patio. I could hear the storm coming across, the island. There was a rush of wind and I thought of Dorothy’s house in Kansas being carried up by the tornado. Suddenly the thunder and the rain seemed to squash the house flat and hurl it, pinned to the surface of the island.

Everything was alive. Someone was hitting the sky with a huge mallet. The sky was made of canvas or hide. It flapped and cracked as it was hit again and again. Then the sky was no longer canvas but metal. Thor's hammer flew across its corrugated surface, breaking it open with a triumphant crash and the rain came down in a torrent.

I stepped hastily back indoors. ‘That was a beauty!’ cried Imogen.

‘Are you ready for more coffee?’ asked Marilyn.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m going out the back to listen.’

On the side or back of the house was a covered porch, open on one side. The roof of this little porch was hammered by the rain while high above (but not too high) the roof of the world was hammered by Thor. There were two levels; one was consistent and steady like the drone of the bagpipes while the other was broken into phrases, like the melody line of a vast symphony for cello and percussion.

As suddenly as it had started, it faded. The mighty conductor lowered the baton. The triple f on the score turned to the double and a single. The belt of thunder had passed over the island and was moving away. As if it could not bear to be left behind, the rain followed.

As the clattering on the roof died away, a curtain was lifted upon the surrounding woodland. All other sound but that of the thunder itself had been blanketed out by the rain on the roof, but now the rest of the world became audible. It fell on the nearby annexe roof with a sharp patter; the trees were waving sodden arms and hissing with pleasure. The ground for yards around was sucking and tinkling as thousands of blades of grass gulped in the drops. Now the roofs were silent and the gurgling began. Down the drainpipes the disappearing water gushed in a mad cascade of escape. Now the gurgling finished and the dripping began. They were everywhere - big drops, little drops, slow drops, fast drops, dripping interrupted by small splashes as if other drops couldn't wait to drip. The trees were dripping like dogs shaking themselves in the final puffs of wind.

Then it was all gone. The muffled drums of departure in the sky must now be heard as a distant warning by some other island further along the coast. A final undefeated drop made an occasional ping on a metal seat somewhere.

I went back inside. The coffee was still hot.

 

For other writings on this subject: (Blindness list)

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