Contentment… a moment by a lake
SOMETIMES, you see things that somehow symbolise an idea. They might be fleeting sightings yet it may be their brevity that makes them so poignant because there is no time for enquiry to dispel impression.
One of these moments came for me when I turned the vehicle onto the gravel road indicated by the little sign that proclaimed Tungatinah Lagoon. One kilometer, claimed the sign, but I beg to differ. It was less than a third that distance.
The Lagoon is a minor waterway that is fed by the waters of Lake Binney which, in turn, are topped up by those of Bronte Lagoon. It’s one of those highland lakes that has been raised as part of a hydroelectric scheme, something you can tell from the stumps of dead trees that emerge from the surface and by the dam wall along one side of the Lagoon.
“Stop here and take a look around?”, I asked Fiona. She assented, looking out over the grey waters of the Lagoon that were not so different in colour to that of the sky. I set off along the rocky beach — though maybe that’s not the word for the edge of soil between the water and the surrounding eucalypt forest. It was quiet. Water and forest, the primeval presence on this island.
Apart from a man with his dog, ute and small caravan, we were the only people on the shore though you could tell that others visited and probably camped by the lake. Fishermen, I guess.
Yet it was that man and his dog — he gave me a wave and his animal came over to check me out — that accounts for that fleeting, symbolic moment I mentioned earlier. There was something about the sight of him, alone on the shores of a minor Tasmanian highland lake, sitting in his folding chair looking out over the water and apparently at peace with the world. The image was one of a man enjoying his solitude, a man content with what he had. Happy, perhaps. With his dog.
It’s this notion of happiness that troubles me, though. I find it something of a slippery idea and much prefer the term ‘satisfaction’ or ‘contentment’. Whatever you call it, it’s a desirable mental state. Happiness, though, conjures up an image of exuberance or being blissed out that doesn’t account for the quietness that this man was apparently enjoying… a peaceful solitude in which he was content to gaze out onto the lake in some unfocused way, just to be there in the moment.
Solitude doesn’t always mean happiness. Maybe it did to that man. I does to me and I have sought solitude at times, whether that’s just a few minutes tuning out of whatever is going on around me, an afternoon or day by myself in the solitude-among-many of the city centre or that solo trek along the Overland Track all that time ago… solitude day after day in the mountains.
For me, happiness isn’t feeling exuberant. Now that I’ve had to think about it, I think it’s those moments when I can sit quietly, prefably somewhere with a long view in front of me and zone out, emptying my mind of the immediate and the trivial and making mental space for those reflective thoughts to arise. There’s something else that comes at those moments too, a sense of satisfaction at the way things are.
I wonder how that solitary man in his lone camp on the shores of Tungatinah Lagoon was appreciating the moment? Contemplative? Mind in flow mode rather than objective mode? Or was he thinking as he sat there with his dog?
He was still sitting there as we drove away to join the road that would take us westward to a much bigger lake surrounded by a much bigger and darker forest. Looking over at him as we turned onto the gravel road, for a moment I too felt the breath of contentment.