In Praise of Wild and Lonely Places

There is something evocative about slowing down and becoming quiet.  A primitive, even visceral desire, to strip away the distractions and focus on that which matters.

For many of us, getting outdoors, is a way of focusing on that which matters.  We do so by working in our garden, hiking, snowshoeing through the woods or walking on the beach.

We are drawn to that which allows our hearts, minds and imaginations to expand. To be reminded that we belong to the cosmos, not just to our daily routines.

Stephen Hiltner taps into this desire in a provocative article in the New York Times entitled: ‘In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote’. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/travel/in-search-of-britains-bothies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss He writes of a journey through the wild lands of the United Kingdom, finding refuge and inspiration in isolated huts called ‘bothies’.

A vast majority of bothies are repurposed structures — crofters’ homes, shepherds’ huts, mining outbuildings — that have been salvaged from various states of disrepair by the Mountain Bothies Association, a charitable organization founded in 1965 whose aim is “to maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places.” Some, like Warnscale Head in England’s Lake District, date to the 1700s. Collectively, since they came into recreational use in the 1930s as weekend getaways (sometimes used clandestinely) for working-class laborers, bothies have given rise to a unique culture that values communal respect for fellow visitors, for the bothies themselves and for the land on which they’re situated.

Such wild and lonely places remind me of a week spent on the Longtrail, in Vermont.  With my cousin, Tom, we spent that week moving from rustic hut to hut, soaking in the vistas and silence.

On the Longtrail, there is a tradition of receiving a ‘trail name’ that evokes who you are, or, what you hope to be.  My name was ‘Slow and Easy’.  The name reflects a tendency when on the trail, to linger and savor what the trail has to offer.  While some seek to conquer the trail by bagging a maximum of miles per day, my goal was to experience what was right in front of me.

Travelling ‘slow and easy’ was somewhat counterculture on the trail and certainly is countercultural in our plugged in, highly scheduled lives.

Back to the line I opened with: ‘There is something evocative about slowing down and becoming quiet’.

John Muir lived this truth. He was a mystic and founder of the Sierra Club in the 1930’s.  His formative years were nourished by the wild and lonely places in Scotland.  Later, as a youth, his family emigrated to the United States in the 1870’s and it was there that he fell in love with the wild and lonely places of America.

The moors of Scotland and the mountains of Yosemite, evoke a sense of awe, wonder and belonging to that which is greater than oneself.  Muir wrote:

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Muir’s words reflects that which drew monks and mystics for millenniums to the out-of-the-way places.  Yet, we know too, that such wild and exotic places are simply pointers to that place we can enter each day.  A reminder to slow down, reflect and reconnect, to that Source which is eternal, which is good, lasting and true.

The portal to such a place, begins by simply slowing down and becoming quiet.

Isaiah, an ancient prophet said: ‘Listen and your soul will live’.

May it be so.  Wherever your path may lead.

 

 

Snowshoeing on a Woo Hoo Day

Thich Nhat Hahn the Buddhist monk speaks about the practice of ‘mindfulness’. He says: “When I walk I know I am walking. When I eat I know I am eating. When I see I know I am seeing.” His words remind us to be fully present to what we are doing.

I recently heard a TED talk on the theme of anxiousness. Several presenters mentioned that as we multi-task in life our anxiety level rises in proportion to our busyness. Those who are least anxious are those who are able to live in the now, to be present to what is.

I was thinking about this a few days ago on a drop-dead gorgeous afternoon in Massachusetts. After a historic winter with over 8 feet of snow and numbing single digit temperatures, my wife and I went snowshoeing on a sunny Saturday and a balmy 30 degrees.

We went to a local state park whose trails were busy with cross-country skiers, snowshoeing and romping dogs. People greeted each other with: “Today is perfect!”

snowshoeing

After a long grey winter the days were warming, Spring was but a few weeks off and we

knew

that this snow which had seemed never-ending was to be enjoyed, even savored. As I walked in my snowshoes I tried to walk mindful of the beauty that was before me. I tried to be in the moment, pausing often to bask in the sun and enjoy the beauty of freshly fallen snow.

As I walked I knew I was walking. As I breathed I knew I was breathing. As I shouted:”Woo hoo!”I knew I was shouting.

In Praise of Less

photo simple roomFor the past three weeks I’ve been living out of one small carry-on suitcase. My wife Tricia and I have relocated from the west coast to the east. In that we drove cross-country with our dog and cat, we were limited to the stuff we could bring with us. Initially the moving van was to arrive last week but for reasons unclear, the movers have been delayed. Perhaps a side trip to Vegas? We can only guess.

We are told that the truck with our worldly possessions will arrive in a few days. But as we’ve waited, its been interesting how well we have done with so little. For my part I have three dress shirts, two pairs of pants, three pairs of socks and one sock missing, running shoes and shorts. Newly made friends have loaned us a futon mattress, set of sheets, place setting for two, a few pots and pans and a few chairs.

Last night we had our first home cooked meal. It was wonderful. Without a radio or television and with no internet we broke out a deck of cards and played games. We took a long walk by the ocean. We walked our dog. We talked. We held each other as we fell asleep.

In a few days we are told the moving truck will arrive. Maybe. When they do we will be reintroduced to the stuff that will fill to the max our now Spartan apartment. I will be glad to have my books back. It will be good to have extra socks, underwear, shirts etc. I am excited about my kayak being unloaded and launched in the Atlantic ocean.

But I suspect that we will also miss the simplicity that comes with having enough but not too much. For me there is a spiritual component to this. I’m reminded to simplify my schedule and life so as to make room for that mystery we call God, Spirit. The paradox of both our material and spiritual life, is that less can mean more.