An Unexpected Gap

Crossing into spring


Reaching high into the air, this long, slender branch from what appears to be an elm tree caught my attention because of its bridge-like curve, and the lovely, green glow of its leaves against the sky.

As so often happens, enlarging the photo revealed an additional, amusing detail: a gap in the neat procession of growth where one bud had failed to open. Was it sleeping? Just a little lazy? Perhaps it was protesting Spring’s arrival, or had been prevented from opening by some external force.

Whatever the cause, the gap among the leaves recalls these words of Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:

The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound.
The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells that the wind lances through: the icy, narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.
Go up into the gaps if you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe.


Comments always are welcome.

46 thoughts on “An Unexpected Gap

  1. A fabulous photo! Crossing–it’s a constant. Your clear blue sky, interrupted by the arch of new foliage, is perfection.

    1. Isn’t it fun to have the bridge and the gap in the same image? There are plenty of gaps to be bridged in life, but this one is more fun than most.

  2. Gaps are so important in our life and isn’t this just gorgeous. It wouldn’t have been quite so attractive with a perfect line. The imperfect is the true beauty of nature.
    I’ll save the words of Annie Dillard. Thank you so much for sharing this beauty.
    Please allow me to quote Marc Jacobs:
    I don’t love Photoshop; I like imperfection. It doesn’t mean ugly. I love a girl with a gap between her teeth, versus perfect white veneers. Perfection is just… boring. Perfect is what’s natural or real; that is beauty.

    Have a great weekend!
    The Fab Four of Cley Xx

    1. This just occurred to me, and made me laugh. Perhaps that little bud is fasting — delaying for itself the gratification of growth!

      There was a time when I would have cropped this image to eliminate the gap. Now, I see it not as imperfection, but as a sign of individuality: the kind of beauty of which Jacobs speaks.

      Speaking of imperfection, Dillard has a wonderful paragraph devoted to it in the same book. I’ve quoted it at least a dozen times over the years, but it seems especially appropriate here:

      I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…

  3. As I got my little book of gems out to put down the words of Annie Dillard, my eyes spotted this quote:

    What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art; art is the gap. – Marcel Duchamp

    Sounds great, don’t you think? :-)

    1. Duchamp’s words remind me of everything I’ve ever read about the importance of the writer’s editing process. What goes into anything, from a post like this to the longest novel, is far less important than what comes out. The gaps that are left are where the mystery and meaning shine through.

      As Dr. Seuss once put it, “The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

    1. Isn’t it funny how absence can become a compelling presence? To paraphrase Cohen, there probably is a gap in everything: one that allows a little extra light to shine through.

  4. Great photo, Linda! Isn’t it amazing how we take a shot of what we *think* we’re seeing, then get away from the scene to find it’s got so many more layers of interest than we first thought?

    Gaps are like white spaces in web design. So many folks want to fill every square inch of the screen with something (probably thinking they’re getting their money’s worth!) when it’s the white spaces that lend interest to a design and make the page readable. Hard to convince clients of that!

    1. You’re exactly right about those ‘extra added attractions,’ Debbie. That’s one reason I enjoy macro photography. The number of little creatures hidden away in even the simplest flower can be a real treat, and the occasional oddity, like this missing set of leaves, is equally intriguing.

      What you say about web design is so true, and it’s the reason I finally changed my blog template. Despite efforts to simplify the old one, it still didn’t have a clean, uncluttered appearance. If de-cluttering is good for our closets and our lives, it surely ought to be good for our websites!

    1. Thank you, Pete. I’m sure you’re as happy as the rest of us for spring to be filling up the winter-created gaps with new flowers and insects to enjoy.

  5. How do you find just the right section? This isn’t a quote from a quote book (or maybe it is — subject: gaps). But even if you read this, you have to not only remember where it was but that there was a quote on gaps in the first place! Your brain puts mine to shame and I get all fuzzy thinking about how it is you think and where you store all this stuff — and still manage to have quite a life!

    The gap makes the photo more interesting, not just a branch but a branch with a story of sorts, a mystery. Smart you to find it.

    1. Well, repetition helps. I’ve read Pilgrim At Tinker Creek multiple times, and refer back to particular sections regularly, so it’s easy to draw on. And my memory seems to be strongly visual. Remembering that Dillard wrote about gaps is one thing. Being able to ‘see’ the page is even better, since it helps me find the reference more quickly.

      “A branch with a story” is exactly it. Remember the tagline of Oh’s blog? “Everything is story-able,” she liked to say, and here’s another bit of evidence that she was right.

    1. Sometimes a photo stands on its own, and sometimes words alone do the trick, but there certainly are times when words and image together create something even more special. It’s the old “whole greater than the sum of its parts” business, I suppose. And isn’t it fun when it happens?

  6. I don’t mind the gap. Perfect symmetry can be a bit sterile sometimes. And I love the passage you quoted. When I looked up the word, because “gap” strikes me as kind of odd (it’s from Old Norse), there was a list of synonyms, some that initially struck me as not totally positive-sounding (rent, breach, fracture, rift, etc.), and some that have happy associations (respite, interlude, breathing space, interlude, opening, space). And I see that Annie Dillard turned that around, and sees the clefts and fissures as positive things, allowing access and exploration. Very nicely done.

    1. It wasn’t until recently that I learned “mind the gap” is a cautionary phrase used in England. I didn’t remember it from my visits there, although it was introduced in 1969, several years before my first visit.

      Coincidentally, the clothing chain known as The Gap was established in 1969. The name referenced the so-called generation gap, and no doubt there was a good bit of word play around the multiple meanings of the phrase.

      Gaps certainly can be positive or negative — or both. The gap created in a friend’s fence by the comings and goings of nighttime creatures is negative in her eyes, but wholly positive in the eyes of a certain dog who loves having an easy means of escape.

    1. One of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that there’s just no predicting what’s going to show up. Another thing I’ve learned is to look up, down, and all around. It’s easy to keep my focus at eye level or below, but there’s a lot going on “up there.” I loved the curve of the branch when I saw it, as well as the colors. Then, I discovered the hidden delight when I got home.

  7. We marvel at the “perfection” of nature, but nature is not perfect. It’s natural. More importantly, there’s always room in nature for an oops!

    1. The nature of perfection is one of those topics that could be — has been — endlessly debated. I suppose it’s possible even to say that there’s no perfect definition of perfection. What is true is that when we say a flower or a sunset is perfect, we mean something beyond ‘flawless.’ As I’ve told an occasional person, if you want perfectly aligned grain and absolute color matches, get plastic, not wood. The swirls, gnarls, and irregular grain in wood aren’t flaws; they’re part of the nature of the beast, which is your point.

    1. What a delightful thought, Val. Or maybe it’s shy. We say violets are shy; why not the occasional bud?
      I’m glad you enjoyed the photo. It makes me laugh to remember my childhood belief that blue and green didn’t “go together.” They certainly complement one another here.

      1. Yes, my mother had that belief, too, that blue and green don’t go together and, in fact, it took me years before I braved using them together because of that! But of course, nature has no such qualms.

        1. That’s really interesting. I’ve never known of another person who had that same conviction regarding blue and green. I’m certainly glad I got past it, thanks to my grandmother, who pointed out the tree/sky combination to me.

    1. We haven’t had many blue skies, so I was especially pleased to have this one: a real gift. And it’s fun to see signs of spring other than the flowers. Even the fish are more active now, and the first baby mallards have been sighted. It seems that Spring is branching out.

  8. What a lovely paean to the GAP. I have been busy with one of my irregular decluttering episodes. Reading your post makes me realize that I am not so much decluttering as gap making. I have two empty shelves in my wardrobe now and I want them to remain empty. I feel pleased when I contemplate an empty space. Perhaps this is what the Japanese call Ma

    1. What an interesting article, filled with descriptive phrases that echo conclusions I’ve come to myself, over time. I was especially intrigued by this: “Ma combines door [Door-Kanji-Character] and sun [Sun-Kanji-Character]. Together these two characters depict a door through the crevice of which the sunlight peeps in.”

      The first thing that came to mind was this photo from my visit to Presidio La Bahia. Then, I recalled how that photo brought to mind Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” with the lines, “There is a crack, a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in.” I wondered if Cohen’s time at the Buddhist monastery might have contributed to that song, but it seems it was just the opposite. “Anthem” already was written — a ten year process! — before he entered the monastery, so his years there were in some sense a natural extension of his developing thought.

      The creation of intentional space is one thing. I wonder how the Japanese, either in the concept of Ma or otherwise, deal with the imposition of space, as with the death of Dixie Rose. That certainly has left a gap, and a whole lot of space. Our human temptation always is to fill the void, and the sooner the better; the number of people who’ve said, “Of course you’ll get another cat” testifies to that. It would be interesting to know if Japanese culture distinguishes between positive and negative experiences of space.

      1. Yes, I was also intrigues by the characters used in Ma. As for the imposition of space, a friend who was with me the other day asked why I was getting rid of stuff from my already tidy house. I gave my usual response which was that I had too much stuff and was feeling overwhelmed by it. She quietly said, “Is it too much stuff, or is it something to do with losing your father?” That stopped me in my tracks. All I could say was maybe, and that is still about all I can say. I don’t know if I am avoiding the gap, filling it or trying to come to terms with it, or get a better picture of it. There are many gaps in my understanding of the situation, but no gap in my appreciation of your post and your photo.

  9. Great image and idea. Since I’ve been gardening for more 8 years now, I’ve become aware of gaps in growth patterns in all my plants. However, you also mention ‘gaps’ metaphorically speaking, and I can see what you mean. I see it as a ‘subtlety’ in detail of something perhaps that is yet to emerge, or in some form of recess from ongoing activity. I’ve read Pulitzer prize winning Annie Dillard, and her writing style and personification of nature is fascinating.

    1. When it comes to gardening gaps, one thing being promoted here is the importance of planting for continual blooms across seasons, to provide sustenance for pollinators. And research has shown that bees and flies have limited ranges, so planting pollinator gardens within reach of one another can create gap-free pathways for the insects to travel.

      I really do enjoy Dillard’s writing. Her book titled On Writing is short, but equally fascinating. Another writer whose nature writing (loosely defined) I’ve appreciated for years is Loren Eiseley. In some ways, he’s the Edward Gorey of nature writers, but he’s always interesting.

      1. There is still plenty of taboo regarding the role of insects in nature. I would also venture to say the majority (gardeners or not) would rather not have to do with them, and some even cut trees down in order not to sweep their leaves or deal with associated labors or nuisances. I believe that perhaps this is the reason why the concept of ‘wildlife gardening’ became so popular at some point. I don’t like to ‘coin’ any idea or way of thinking, but perhaps by example one learns best.

        You have also mentioned wonderful artists and scholars. I’m now subscribed to so I’m also listening to books. It’s $15.00 monthly and you can cancel anytime and keep all the books you listened to. The advantage I find in ‘listening’ to books is that I can rest my eyes. Have you thought about publishing any of your writing?

  10. Many years ago, WordPress had a writing prompt called, the space between moments, or something like that, can’t entirely trust memory these days. Try a search perhaps.
    Also, I love the Japanese term of wabi sabi, imperfections.
    (I’m on my way north! Back to the Bush -:) )

  11. Even without the gap, the photo and title would have been wonderful, but that gap adds the mystery, doesn’t it? I love the way the photo feels like a railway….and I do see grace and feel room for breath in that gap!

    1. And didn’t I laugh when I realized that I just posted another version of a curve. I thought about all of your curves when I saw this, and realized immediately that my little branch would fit right into that set of images. Beyond that, it’s one more reminder to look up, as well as down. More than birds live in the air!

    1. I’m glad you like the photo, Lavinia. If I’ve learned anything since taking up photography, it’s that you never can predict where one of nature’s wonders is going to appear. As for Dillard — she’s just the best. I started reading her in the 70s, and I still go back to her work on a regular basis.

  12. Your posts are always beautiful and give me something to contemplate — and then all the wonderful comments provide a branching framework that complements the original post. A lovely mental respite.

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