Sunday, October 18, 2020

While Camping, Finding a Silence as Sweet as Honey

Letting go can take a while. When I take off for an overnight or three-day bike tour--or even a long day ride--I find that I don't really let go until I'm ten miles down the road. I'm riding and thinking about all those things in my daily routine, things to do or that I want to do or that I should have done. Then there comes a moment when the attention settles on the riding, on the spinning of the pedals and the body's working, on the bird sounds and the wildflowers along the roadside. 

The same experience of settling into the moment and letting the tipsy-turvy mind settle certainly added to the enjoyment of my walk on a lakeside trail yesterday here at Honey Creek State Park in SE Iowa. Although I had enjoyed some short bike rides during my two-week stay here, I hadn't found any trails continuous enough for a longer hike. I was tired of my choices being either campground or asphalt. I had taken some longer walks along Rathbun Lake (and more on that later), but they were more ambles because I had to walk slowly, watching my step to avoid twisting an ankle on the rocks. Therefore, when I struck a trail that skirted a smaller arm of the lake yet stayed above the lake among the trees, I joyfully strode off for some exercise and the serenity of the trees, and again was happy to just settle into the moment, after about a quarter hour of hiking. 


What is true for the bike ride or hike has also been true for this camping season's "staycations," where I've camped at one site for a couple of weeks. Arriving at the campsite, the initial first days focused on setting up camp and establishing a camp routine. After a few days, though, I had the thought: "I could go back to camp and cook lunch. It's almost noon. But I don't have to. I can just keep walking along the lake and get back a little later." Not exactly a mind-boggling, life-changing epiphany, but the perspective behind the thought was significant to me. 


My "time-sense" and "schedule-sense" was easing up. I was remembering what it was like to be off the clock. My individual time was remembering that it is just a drop in the ocean of cosmic time. We all have moments of intense activity. Even indigenous cultures were busy, but that "business" was much more embedded in the rhythms of nature. I think our minds and bodies miss that elegant and stately flow of time passing in nature, as opposed to living on the clock. It's not that we've lost cosmic time when we are on the clock; it's more that we deny an essential aspect of ourselves, like the drop of water declaring itself "non-ocean." 

I think we can have both--the cosmic and the individual--but we have to familiarize our mind and bodies to recognizing that both exist. Yes the ticking of the old-school clock is real. I mean, just listen! We can hear it. However, our attention becomes so absorbed in the ticking that we lose our awareness of the silence between the tick-tocks of the clock. We forget that without the silence, there would be no "tick," only a continuous chaos of white noise. Hmmm . . . sound familiar? We are both individual and cosmic, and being in nature reminds us of that. Even if our ego is not convinced, our mind and bodies feel some freeing from the confines of boundaries labeled "lunchtime" or "rush hour" "10-minute break."


This morning I awoke early and watched the dawn. A light rain was falling, and as the night sky lightened, the dawn was a gradual increase of shades of gray beneath the cloudy sky. The gray drizzle outside my tiny camper's windows, though, and the soughing of the wind through the trees and the rich smell of leaf mould that the fall conjured as fingers of wind discovered my tiny trailer's slightly opened ceiling vent--all this reminded me of my greater and grander nature. The golds and reds and russets of autumn were muted by the gray fall dawn, but two deer browsed outside the window, oblivious of my presence as I sat in the warm safe haven of my tiny trailer. We each had our place and purpose.


I was outside, yet inside. I closed my eyes and was inside, yet outside. The camper walls weren't a barrier; the words and the concepts the words "inside" and "outside" represented were the barrier, one I left behind. I was surrounded by a womb-like comfort, surrounded by warm stillness as outside the wind moaned softly and rain pattered on the rooftop. Out of darkness the day was born, and in that dawning I remembered a line from an Inuit song, that every dawn is a new creation. 

I think over again my small adventures, my fears,
These small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things I had to get and to reach.
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing.
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

With all the strife and turmoil of personal life and the life of others that surrounds us, it's good to remember the stillness before dawn, the silence that surrounds the rustling of the leaves, and that it is natural to be awake and unafraid, to feel that after that first breath, we have all the time in the world. 

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