Monday, July 21, 2008

Stop, Look and Listen

The bench sits underneath an old oak tree. It looks out over the street, vineyards and hills dotted with oaks and an abandoned old schoolhouse. Behind it rests an organic vineyard, wooden birdhouses offer shelter - and encourage nibbling of insects - between the rows. Small wildflower gardens, designed to attract pests away from the vines, sprawl along the fences.

One warm morning, as the sun stretched and yawned over the hillside, we walked the path that leads by the bench. This morning, for some reason, we actually stopped and read the inscription. Dedicated to a long time resident who had since passed, the bench instructed "come, sit and listen to nature's songs."

Because we weren't in a hurry to be in anywhere, because we were feeling relaxed and lazy, because an entire day of entertaining children in 107 degree weather loomed before us, we obeyed the bench's orders. We stopped. We sat. We listened.

We heard the call of a quail. Across the street, a male roosted in an olive tree. There, he surveyed his family as they toddled through the vineyard.

The saccharine chirp of songbirds that dove in and out of the vines echoed through the valley.

Lizards rustled in the underbrush and emerged from holes to soak in the morning sun's rays.

A tiny breeze cosseted the leaves of the ancient tree overhead and carried soft, warming clucks in our direction. A dozen hens emerged from under the vines, shuffling companionably along and then, every so often, breaking apart to peck here and or digest a bug there. We waited, unmoving, while they pattered toward the fence.

In that moment, I felt at peace, regenerated, centered and still.

Last winter, we watched Frontier House at Crunchy Chicken's suggestion. A worthwhile PBS reality show, it followed three families for five months in an isolated stretch of Montana. The participants lived as if they were in 1883 - without electricity, running water, heat or other modern conveniences. The participants' overwhelming response, once they returned to the present day, was how much we have. We have too much. Too many choices. Too many things competing for our attention. Too much stimulation. It overwhelms the quiet of nature, the stillness of the soul, the opening through which we can know ourselves.

In modern America, it is difficult to treasure silence, to unleash imagination, to embrace the healing power of a simple morning at the vineyard's.

How long I can keep that moment, that morning's sense of being, with me? How many movies can I watch? How much can I stare at ? How many texted messages? How long can that feeling survive the competing and much louder din of technology?

I struggle with this the only ways I know how. By turning off the TV and the radio. By recreating safe places in my yard, planting to lure the quiet creatures in, leaving a back corner untamed for birds and bees, newts and beetles. By vacationing in places where there is less - less stimulation, less competition, fewer choices. By re-discovering our county's hikes and preserves. By cherishing a moment of stillness under an old oak tree. By heeding a bench's reminder to stop, look and listen to nature's songs.


Robj98168 said...

Great post! SOme times you gotta stop and smell the roses!

abbie said...

We really liked Frontier House when it first came out. I have to say, out of the the others (Victorian House and Colonial House) it was the best. It was especially interesting to me to see the people kill their chickens and cry over it. I think just because I grew up knowing where my food came from, it was bizarre to me that someone wouldn't know that when you eat chicken, that's where it comes from. Enjoy the rest of the episodes, if you haven't seen them yet. The last episode when they check in with the families in the real world is the best, I think.

Wendy said...

Looks like you answered Crunchy's question with this post. She asked if you had unlimited resources without cost to yourself or the environment, would you choose the more simple life you are constructing? Your answer, as hers, and as most of the comments I read, is yes ;).

Isn't it funny that the saying the best things in life are free actually holds true?

107°!!??!! It's between 74° and 76° (I have one of those suspended ball Galileo thermometers ;) in my house ... with no air conditioning ... and we're not underground ;). Hope you can find a comfortable place to enjoy the day.

CindyW said...

I must have missed the 107 degree days. We came back to a cool 75 degree bay area this weekend.

I love your post. Those moments when I can sit and listen to nature's songs remain to be my favorite moments. These moments remind me that I don't really need much material posession to be blissful.

We all need this sort of simple mind space to regenerate and center our lives

Heather @ SGF said...

Great post! If we don't slow down and really savor life WHILE we are living it, what's the point? We only get this one shot at it...

Di Hickman said...

I decided a month or so ago that one day a week I was going offline one day a week, this was HUGE for me. I am a techno gal that is online pretty much all the time. I weaned myself off slowly. No meals at the computer (BIG change), no internet in the morning DO SOMETHING instead. And 2 weeks ago I went the whole day with no computer, no internet, no blogging, no email. Yesterday was my 2nd day. Definitely worth doing.
I will say that initially when I started gardening I thought I'd be bored and charged my ipod to wear, but I much prefer to LISTEN to nature.

Haven't seen Frontier House but I'll look out for it

kendra said...

We loved watching Frontier House when it was on. I wish they would do more shows like that!

amy purple said...

My husband and I keep thinking about how when we go on vacation, we need to do a little more. While we are usually going to do something related to nature, we thought maybe volunteering somewhere while we're visiting a new place would be a great offset to balance out vacations. I'm thinking a great start would be to visit SW Utah to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Dagny said...

The times I have felt most like myself and most at peace with the world are in the woods, away from distractions and complications. Sometimes it takes days for me to 'shed' life and sometimes just minutes.

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Green Bean said...

Rob: Yup. Or the grape vines, as it were.

Abbie: We have finished it already and I agree with you. Frontier House was definitely the most worthwhile. The last episode was the most poignant for me. Everyone seemed so aimless, unsure as to what to do, overwhelmed really.

Wendy: Great point! This did answer Crunchy's question. I think most of us who have embarked on a simpler life are happier this way. Every day has more meaning instead of just rushing past.

Cindy: Welcome back!! I missed you. :) Check your email and see if you can come to the picnic.

Heather: So true. Before I started slowing down, I really didn't savor anything. It just rushed past me.

Di: Do look into Frontier House. I think it was very worth the watch. And thank you for the suggestion on going tech free. I did that for a while with Melinda's challenge and then got away from it. I should start up again. It did make me feel centered and less busy.

Kendra: I agree. I could do with a little more Frontier House and a little less . . . well, I don't even know what they have on these days but a little less of it. ;-)

Amy: Wonderful point. In addition to being out in nature, you get the added fulfillment of doing something you believe in, making a difference. I've read about such vacations and I think they are not only rewarding but provide the opportunity to bond with others in a way we just don't do very often in "the real world." I hope you do Best Friends and blog about it.

Dagny: Yes, it is much harded to access our true selves in the barage of modern life. Nature helps.

kale for sale said...

I wish I had that bench nearby right now. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate those moments of quiet and renewal.


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