Three birds flew off the tip of a boulder that jutted above the surface of the water. It was like a tiny island, barely visible to the naked eye. Yet the truth was that below the water lay a boulder so formidable that hundreds of years of bad weather had barely moved it. Old sea charts warned seafaring vessels not to come too close, lest it rip through their hulls.
As my kayak glid close, I looked down in awe. In the depths was the the earth's past: an ice age mountain ridge, submerged and eroded as temperatures had risen. It's power was frightening, and I could have avoided it, but there was something about facing the depths that was freeing. "Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar" - People can face the truth - a quote shared with me by a friend from the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann suddenly made perfect sense. I would no longer call this a little island, make up stories about its smallness or give it false names. Neither would I ever know it completely, or be able to say exactly how it came to be. Many things about it would remain encapsulated in that time when it was formed; all we had were the pointers of science. And what happened to it in the microcosm of every moment, as the water continued to form and change it? The truth seemed so difficult to grasp - so complex, so impossible - yet it was there if one bothered to look.
Recently, the truth has seemed more fragile than ever. People have tired of it, preferring simpler explanations. Whole communities - whole movements - collect around these simpler explanations, which are loud and crass so as to drown out the many contradictions they raise. Like the tiny island above the water, poor truth is barely recognizable.
My own experience of seeking the truth is that it is frustrating because it is never-ending. Just as you think you have seen something clearly, new questions obscure it like the current that stirs up the mud on the river bed. It requires an unending willingness to face questions that may always remain unanswered. It means being prepared to live with the unease of not knowing and sometimes, if not often, concluding that you were wrong. It is the roughage of our existence, not the fast food of untruths that appeals to so many.
As I look out of my window from my writing desk over the lake, which continually reforms what is left of that Ice Age mountain ridge, I feel exhilarated. Beyond the next big island there is a tiny island with birds perched on it. I know there is much more to it than the naked eye can see. Underneath is a great rock that holds many mysteries, and somewhere inside each of these is a kernel of truth.