Part II: Stillness in Pasture and Pond
The Giverny Project ™
Like a water lily finding its place in Claude Monet’s painting Pool, With Water Lilies, the namesake mare, Water Lily, seeks to find her place on the canvas of the Canadian equestrian world. It is not, however, as easy a task for the horse as Monet makes it seem for the flower. RSE Ambassador, Candice Hudson, stands right beside her to help her find her way. (The “Water Lily and Candice Story” which first appeared 21 June 2019 has been renamed here as “The Giverny Project”.)
Out of the enclosure of the barn, in the open air, under a cloudless summer sky, Water Lily grazes peacefully on the sweet green grass of her new pasture home. Watching her, you cannot help but think that this might be one of the most pleasurable moments of both her life and yours. Indeed, the most pleasurable moments are the simple, unhurried ones, are they not? It is through her unhurried grazing that Water Lily shows us that there is profound beauty, pleasure and meaning in being in a state of contentment, stillness and peace.
It is through her unhurried grazing that Water Lily shows us that there is profound beauty, pleasure and meaning in being in a state of contentment, stillness and peace.
Because of her name, we are almost immediately reminded that such contentment, stillness and peace are reflected, too, in the stillness of the water gardens at Giverny and in the Water Lily Series of paintings by Monet. Indeed, there may be no occasion when Water Lily is more like the plant after which she is named than in moments of her quiet grazing. On the one side, the water lilies of Giverny, whose formal family name is Nymphaeaceae, float gracefully on the surface of the water, their intricate outlines punctuating the reflection of the clouds and of the garden’s willows in the pond’s surface. On the other side, at the grassy pasture Water Lily now calls home, their namesake grazes gracefully in a pastoral setting, against the backdrop of rolling distant hills.
Water Lily appears motionless, as if loosely tethered to the earth by the very sweetness of the grass, giving the illusion of being fixed in one place, while the Nymphaeaceae are tied to the muddy floor of the pond by their long stems, yet remain subject to the whims of gentle currents of water. Horse and water plant both abide within their respective places within Nature, however tended and nurtured and crafted those places may be.
The Nymphaeaceae family is found, of course, not only in the water gardens at Giverny, but well beyond them. You have more than likely encountered the Nymphaeaceae yourself in your travels, even if you have not yet had occasion to visit Monet’s gardens. Perhaps you have admired them when you paddled a canoe into the calm waters near the shore of a lake or river somewhere on the Canadian Shield, into “water corners” as it were, where the water is quiet and still. You entered there, perhaps, to explore a section of shoreline, your eye having caught sight of something along the shore. You dipped your paddle into the water among the green round leaves of the water lilies, some with flowers, others not, so carefully, gently, so as to not disturb them. Yet, in spite of that, the water lilies were unavoidably taken, swirling backwards with the slight current you created, only to return slowly, gracefully, as if performing a dance in water to take up their pose between water and sky once more, as if dancers in a ballet. You listen to them gently rub against the underside of your canoe as you glide over them. You mean no harm. They return to their peace once you have departed.
While standing with Water Lily in her pasture contentedly grazing, you might, however, go even a little further to say that keeping company with her, like discovering water lilies in the gardens in Giverny or by canoe, is no small thing and is nothing to be taken for granted. They are among the stuff of which a life is made.
There is, to be sure, no hurry here this morning in Water Lily’s pasture, just as there is no hurry at the ponds of Giverny, or in the water lily filled gentle waters of the Shield. There is nowhere that Water Lily has to be. There is no Grand Prix to be won. There is no trailer backing up to load her, in order to take her to yet another locale, the dust rising in the hot summer air. No road trip to undertake today.
Indeed, the idea of competition is as far away from this pasture as are the distant hills that line the horizon. The notion of competition is perhaps never completely absent from the minds of the individuals surrounding the horse: the rider, owner, barn hands, well-wishers and onlookers, which thus may include you, too, Dear Reader. Still, if we take our cue from Water Lily herself, we come to understand the need to allow a pause from the endless occupation with practice and competition. There resides here for Water Lily in this place and moment simple contentment. Water Lily’s unhurried grazing is, indeed, a reminder of the importance of being fully present to this place and moment.
But as content as Water Lily is in her grazing, Company is still a welcomed pleasure for her. She even foregoes a few moments of grazing to come straight over to greet you when you come to visit. Water Lily’s head is partially covered by a mask to protect her eyes and face from the insatiable flies, but you know that she is in there somewhere. She nudges your shoulder with her nose, as if to remind you of something that she believes should be obvious to you. It is as if to point out to you that there is, in fact, an unspoken connection between you and her.
“I am happy that you are here,” Water Lily seems to say.
You are somehow supposed to simply and directly understand it. It could be simply because you happen to stand there with her in the same place at the same time, as if you had met as strangers and then became friends. But it seems to be something decidedly more. It seems to be something along the lines of there being a good feeling between horse and person. “I am happy that you are here,” she seems to say.
Beyond even this sense of welcome and acknowledgment, there surrounds Water Lily the feeling of unhurried peace. The feeling is that of simply being. There is a kind of stillness, a “grazing stillness,” if you will. This stillness is all the more inspiring when the power of this animal is remembered. Water Lily’s raw power is housed within a sculpted musculature that remains perfectly at rest. A stillness of power, a powerful stillness.
If we place this lesson into the broader context of the world and our lives in it, we come to reflect upon the fact that we live in a world which seems rarely at rest. We expect to be able to go from one place to another, for example, without having to deal with the encumbrances of topography, climate and distance. A flight taking us half way across the globe seems annoyingly too long.
We live so often immersed in departures and arrivals, the bustling of taxis and limousines and buses and cars and shuttle trains, that we lose sight of the importance of stillness. It is the glory of smooth departures and punctual arrivals, the moments of lift-off and landing, seemingly in defiance of gravity, the unceasing busyness of life, which define not only modern travel, but to a significant degree modern life itself.
And so it is that Water Lily reminds us simply, eloquently, by her unhurried grazing within her own field, that Nature, too, has its own rhythm, and that rhythm is one which wisely makes room for quiet stillness and peace.
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.