“My house stands in low land, with limited outlook, and on the skirt of the village. But I go with my friend to the shore of our little river, and with one stroke of the paddle I leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and the world of villages and personalities behind, and pass into a delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted man to enter without novitiate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element; our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
I’m returning Emerson once again, partly to counter the din of political tweets and headlines that dominated over the last week, and partly because I’d like to read or re-read all of his work in 2021. Which brings me back to his essay Nature, for (I believe) a third reading. And I couldn’t help but linger on the sentence above, which resonates in this time, and for this place I myself reside, in a house in low land, with limited outlook, on the skirt of the village. Emerson had the Concord River to paddle to truth. I have the New Hampshire woods and the wildlife it sustains to show me the way.
Days like these, a quiet bit of immersion in the forest seems in order. We live in strange times, distracting times, and I’ve seen the impact on my writing lately. Thankfully, I know where to find the remedy: in nature, in tapping into the Great Conversation, and in solitude.
“Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came”
– Wendell Berry, How To Be a Poet (to remind myself)
A special thanks to Maria Popova and Brain Pickings for pointing out this particular poem in a recent tweet. This poem immediately served as a catalyst on two fronts: to search for more Wendell Berry and seek the silent contemplation I’ve stolen from myself absorbing the madness of the world. Silence, as they say, is golden.
So outside of paddling off on my own or building a small cabin in the woods, how to bring together the natural world and the silence necessary for contemplation? The answer, for me, lies in early mornings. The conspirator against a quiet mind is the whirl of madness in the world and a desire to keep up and understand it. In these times, finding a way to paddle or walk away from it all, if only for a little while, seems imperative.
If only to find your own voice again.