Floating on a sea of inspiration

By Richard Pelletier

Isle of Whidbey, Isle of Whyte

On just about every Dark Angels workshop, we talk about place. As a thing or a notion that writers ought to tap into or evoke. Draw on your surroundings, we say. Use it to find a way into the writing, into the language. Into yourself. How does it feel when you look around? What do you see? What comes up for you? What beast begins to stir inside? Maybe jot down a few words and see if it can lead to something bigger. You have five minutes. Go.

These are great questions, made even more poignant by geography. They come up in some unusual places. The mountains of Andalucia. The countryside of Ireland. On the grounds of Oxford, or deep in the Scottish Highlands. And lately, on a wooden boat cruising the waterways of Seattle.

And this always, always, always, leads to something bigger.

photograph by richard pelletier

I bring this up because I live in a place that often leaves my tongue frozen in my mouth. In the big silences that envelop me, in the relentless and shocking beauty that is flying all around me, I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the words; I have no language for this place.

I live on Whidbey Island. It’s magical here. There are coyotes and owls and eagles and whales. Poets, too.

Through my kitchen window I can see four horses. These days, the trees that normally block the view, are bare of leaves. So, while I make my coffee, I watch them. Closest to me are Blue (massive, and midnight black) and Pippin (petite, and snow white). Just across the road from them are Annie and Paris. My neighbors spend most of their time grazing, head down. But watch long enough and you see other things, too. There is the magnificent Blue running full tilt across the open pasture. “Linda, come look, hurry, Blue is running!” And there is Pippin, (as close to a unicorn as you will ever see) rolling on her back. When Annie gets saddled up and taken for a ride through the woods, Paris runs back and forth along the fence of her pasture, her eyes big and wild. Her neighs echo powerfully across our little valley. What exactly is contained in the incomprehensibly beautiful sounds she makes? What language is that?

If you leave my house and take the winding, grassy path through the gardens, past the metal sculptures, you’ll come to an open field. The trail hugs blackberry bushes and forest and eventually takes a right turn. At this point there are some things going on. A child’s swing hangs on the branch of an enormous fir tree. A tiny library sits on a post. Spruce and fir trees all around.

photograph by Richard Pelletier

There is open field in every direction, and off to the east, beyond the rise, there is the Sound. You come out one day and Puget Sound is a clean sheet of gently undulating glass. Come out the next and it is gale-force grey fury. In the distance, 100 miles away, is the Cascade range. If you stand out on Anderson Road on a sunny day in the winter, the snow-capped Cascades will stop your heart. Down below, less than a mile from where you stand, the crisp green and white ferry, leaving the island for the mainland, will revive you. There is something about the sight of that ferry, charming and small, plodding its way across the water, that will gladden your heart every single time you see it. Resistance is futile.

So what comes up is a kind of humility. Reverence. Gratitude. A sense of belonging to the world.

A while back I showed my good friend, the writer and poet Tim Rich, a series of photographs I’d made around Whidbey. “You live inside of a poem,” he said.

Which leads me back to the beginning. Place as a thing, or a notion. As muse. There is something here, the way the light shifts, the dense, thick forests, the wooded trails, the wide-open farmland up north, the tides, the two-lane blacktop roads that turn and twist, rise and fall, like stories. The vistas and the bluffs, the water everywhere around you. The beaches, the mountains in the distance. And the people. They are benevolent. Generous and kind. There’s a spirit of good fellowship here.


David Whyte, Dark Angel

All of which makes this place poetic. A very Dark Angels kind of place. And it may help explain why the poet David Whyte has made Whidbey Island his place. Because entirely unbeknownst to him, David Whyte is a Dark Angel. He is a silent partner in the creation of this beautiful thing we have. His book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, explores how poetry, stories, myth and legend can help us think about work, about corporate life, in new ways. Imagine. Language and creativity, heart and soul and compassion in the workplace. Does any of this sound familiar? When The Heart Aroused was published in 1996, the author gave a talk in London. And a fellow from Muswell Hill, a writer, a branding guy, who was thinking hard about a human language and its role in the corporate world, went to see him. The ripples are still spreading outward.

“With a little more care, a little more courage, and, above all, a little more soul, our lives can be so easily discovered and celebrated in work, and not, as now, squandered and lost in its shadow.” ~ David Whyte, The Heart Aroused

I see him around the island, the poet David Whyte. I see him on his bike, walking through town, in the produce section, at the café. I want to ask him, ‘David Whyte, what comes up for you in this place? What does it feel like when you look around? What stirs inside of you? You have five minutes. Go.’



By David Whyte

It must have been
the slant of the light,
the sheer cross-grain of rain
against a summer sun,
the way the island appeared
gifted, out of the gleam
and depth of distance…

Above all, the way afterwards,
you thought you had left the island
but hadn’t, the way you knew
you had gone somewhere
into the shimmering light
and come out again on the tide
as you knew you had to,
as someone who would return
and live in the world again,
someone granted just a glimpse,
a man half a shade braver,
a standing silhouette in the stern,
holding the rail,
riding the long waves back,
ready for the exile we call a home.

From: The Sea In You:
Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love

by David Whyte