Birches in winter at William O' Brien State ParkAll my moments of stillness have coincided with stillness in the world.

For example, a wooded hillside one winter afternoon. I’d been wandering around the park for an hour or so and I veered off the marked trail and onto this hillside, where I sat in the snow at the base of a tree and looked out and did not move for a while.

And nothing else moved either. No wind set the leafless trees creaking or rustled their few remaining leaves. No distant whine of a highway. No voices or dogs barking. Not a bird or a squirrel. After I sat for a minute, there was not even the sound of my own breath filling and emptying my lungs.

The quiet seemed tangible in the atmosphere amidst the tree trunks and I could breathe it in. As I inhaled, stillness entered me. As I exhaled, so went nervousness and agitation.

I have had similar moments since then on trout streams and wilderness lakes, on the rocky shores of the St. Croix River and in the mountains of Montana, and they have all been moments just as wonderful, but they have also all been moments shaped on that original form, that wooded hillside, that winter afternoon.

[tags]stillness, hiking, quiet, outdoors[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Stillness

  1. Eric

    Dharma bum, great post.
    Recently I’ve taken time and pondered the same stillness that you described. Two weeks ago I was back country in Colorado cross country skiing. The group I was with were there to snowmobile and once they roared by and I was left alone,the stillness brought a great peace I’d been seeking when deciding to travel. The majesty of the mountains, architecture of branches holding snow, and changing light filtering through clouds only enhanced the stillness to dead calm. Its interesting that this stillness tends to reside in beautiful natural enviornments, maybe thats why I also seek them out.

  2. rosie

    bum, great post–really got me thinking. eric, that’s a good point about the snowmobiles and their noise. it’s one of the conflicts i can’t resolve when people say they snowmobile or four-wheel to enjoy nature. those machines only shoot you from end of nature to the next. but on foot or ski, etc., you’re connected with and to experience mother nature on all her levels, not just visually.

  3. the dharma bum Post author

    eric and rosie, thanks for taking the time to comment. i’m glad you liked the post.

    and moreso, thanks for very interesting, insightful comments. i think you are both spot-on. eric, i dont know why stillness tends to reside only in natural environments, but i think it does. i believe it can also reside in the works of humans: art, love, and maybe if i write it well enough, it can live in words? nonetheless, i will go forth into the woods as long as i’m able to, seeking that ephemeral stillness. i feel like i should quote some sigurd olson here, but i won’t. but i feel that undisturbed time in the woods is essential to the human spirit and soul. it is as important as art and love…

    rosie, i’m with you, i don’t get how people can “appreciate nature” when they’re riding a noisy machine. maybe they’re just seeking recreation, nothing more, not to connect with the woods or enjoy nature. and i never want to tell someone else how to live, but what about when their recreation, important but superficial, interferes with my attempts to experience something more meaningful? all i can do is quote again the mr. rogers quote i posted a while back and that you and i have discussed before:

    “We started with silence and I will always uphold a person’s right to silence.”

    thanks again for the comments.

  4. Lene

    Great post (third to say it, I know–you’ve got a lot of fans out here). I think it would be fun to explore moment we feel that same stillness we experience in the natural world when we’re on a bus, a plane, walking in NYC. I think we can carry it with us (or do we find some solace there too, maybe in the safety of crowds?).

  5. the dharma bum Post author

    thank you lene. and thanks for providing so many interesting and inspiring writing prompts the past few months. it’s been really, really helpful in keeping my motivation up amidst a lot of distractions.

    i think you’re onto something with trying to identify and explore the moments when we feel “stillness” in urban or “non-natural” environments. i know i have felt it in those types of surroundings, but i don’t feel like i usually have the time and clarity of mind to appreciate it when i’m surrounded by all the distractions of our modern environments. but that only makes it more interesting to study and discuss. i’ll try to pay attention and i’ll post something up on it when i have something worth saying. hope you and everyone else will do the same.

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