Sometimes I like to be alone, and this was one of those times.
Yesterday was my best morning ever at the cottage, at least as far as the sunrise was concerned. It was warm enough for me to take my coffee outside and sit in the Adirondack chair on the grass below the deck. Daytime Moon, which had risen around 4:30, was hanging out with Morning Star; both were waiting for the Daytime Sun to join them. In the early morning darkness it was impossible to distinguish the precise spot along the rich, thick, red horizon where the sun would appear. A few mergansers, solo or in pairs, were diving and swimming about. A few gulls, solo or in a V, were flying across my vista. The beautifully silence of my solitude was made complete by the companionship of a few songbirds.
Sometimes I like to be alone, and this was one of those times.
I’ve been exploring all kinds of silence during my time at the cottage, and have concluded that it can be defined in many ways, and that any definition is context bound. I can’t say that silence is the absence of sound, but I will say, loud and clear, that when there is noise, there is no silence. My working definition of noise, at least for today, is as follows: noise is any sound that grates on the nerves, takes over all the space, and conjures up negative thoughts.
That’s what happened yesterday as I headed for the beach and heard, and then saw. a mammoth piece of construction equipment, which I can best describe as a woodpecker robot. This machine bird was breaking up an old sea wall, pecking away at huge concrete pipes with the intention of turning them into rocks. I won’t go into the ecological issues here because I don’t know them, but I will report the noise pollution, which any normal person can accurately identify as such. Around the construction spot the sound was deafening, filling all my criteria; but what was frightening was the way the spill echoed off cottage after cottage, following me a good mile. It wasn’t until I got onto the beach that the waves became music to my ears. That was silence.
No, that’s not the same photograph, just the same vacuum cleaner and same car. What you have here is the “after” picture to go with yesterday’s “before” picture . It took me 45 minutes to vacuum the kitchen, dining room, den, bedroom and the deck here at the cottage (and put the vacuum cleaner back in the car).
I must say that I was more intentional about the task than ever before. What did I discover, you ask? That I vacuum like I brush my teeth—too fast. Along with that “vacuum every week” rule, I’m sure I also learned speedy vacuuming and brushing from my mom. But I figure that if I can vacuum less often, I can learn to slow down in order to have cleaner teeth and cleaner rugs. Sometimes simplicity seem very complex!
Now what about cleaning? Can we keep it simple? And then there’s the noise of the vacuum cleaner. I thinking about all this as I load my vacuum cleaner into trunk of my car in preparation for the trip to the cottage. My cleaning has been minimal all winter, but as I prepare to lock the door for the last time on April 7th, I feel compelled to follow that wonderful kindergarten rule—clean up your own mess.
How can we keep cleaning simple? I’m beginning to think that many of us are programmed to clean too often. My mother vacuumed every week. That was the rule she probably got from her mother, and which she passed along to me. I followed it for a while, but then noticed that it was only getting lip service. Eventually I created my own rule, “clean when there is a need,” which I notice my daughter is more or less following. Of course, what one might consider a need, another might overlook. Regardless, my life and time at the cottage has taught me that simple trumps clean.
I didn't take this picture.
Today I ventured out in the car to the outlets in hopes of finding a pair of simple khaki pants. BIG waste of time! I should have known that you don’t go to the outlets looking for something specific. You go hoping you’ll find something that you just loooooove and can’t dooooo without—not one something but many somethings. Anyway, that’s it for me and outlets. I’m not going again!
Perhaps when the outlets are packed with shoppers you might find some life energy, but today the entire area, from parking lots to shops with literally acres of clothing of all sizes, shapes, colors and uses, was depressing through and through. In one mega store there must have been a ratio of 1:6. I customer (me) to six employees, who were chatting together about their lives while keeping an eye on my white gloves. I never would steal a thing. Believe me. Nothing on those racks is worth taking. Prices were slashed and then “Take 30% off lowest price!” They were practically willing to pay me to take away something that nobody wanted!
I know that I’m sounding more cynical that I really am. To be honest, I did find a blouse worth buying, I’m sure I’ll go back to the outlets some day, and yes, it was depressing. I thought of all those jackets, and then I thought of all the people out of work in this country! And what about the folks in Japan who are told not to drink the tap water but who can’t obtain a bottle of water?
For someone who day after day has been sitting in silence, appreciating solitude, and trying to lead a simple life, my response to today’s fieldtrip to the outlets doesn’t surprise me one bit. I realize that one of the prices I pay for this cottage by the sea is that I don’t spend very much money.
The beach was pretty quiet today except for a few surfers. For the most part they were in over their heads, except when a black head would bop up among the white, only to disappear and then reappear. I sat on the bench like I said I would and checked in to see, hear, smell, taste and touch if my five senses were working; song birds, waves, sea air, wind on my face.—I should have tasted the water. I’m embarrassed to admit, however, that when I first sat down it occurred to me that there was no point in sitting because there were no people to watch. What was I thinking…park bench =people. Oh, how limited I can be, but at least I caught my foolishness.
On my way “home” I caught sight of a United Nations of birds, all in one tree: cedar waxwings, a robin, sparrows and a tufted titmouse. Grackles were perched nearby and gulls were flying overhead.
It was peacefully silent on the beach this morning; just me, two “toy” dogs and their owner, and a couple of gulls. Clouds were rushing by, providing more sun than was forecast. On a scale of 1-10, solitude was a perfect 10.
I have about two weeks left at the cottage so I’ve been thinking about how I will continue these solitude times back home, although clearly I won’t have the same large chunks. It’s the same for most of you reading this blog. “How can I craft out some solitude for myself in my busy life? “ you ask.
As a start, you have to believe in your heart of hearts that you deserve some, and if necessary, speak up for it--and then take it. My household is simple, just me and my husband, who also likes solitude, so the challenge is relatively easy--I have the time. I just have to take it.
First sign of spring in our yard.
The first day of spring, and here we have our first sign of new growth, daffodils. My husband tells me that most of the bulbs and flowers in our yard were gifts. The idea of sharing, recycling (and not spending money) exudes simplicity.
(I didn’t have the heart to take a picture of the boats.)
There are two photographs hanging in the examining room in my doctor’s office. One shows at least twenty-five slick, scrubbed-clean, expensive sailboats all moored in front of a slick, scrubbed-clean, expensive condominium complex on the waterfront: no human beings in the picture. The other is a nature scene with all the typical props: flowers, rocks, running stream, trees, mountains, blue sky; no human beings in the picture.
These two “beautiful” photos have very different messages about silence, solitude and simplicity. There are all kinds of things that disturb me about the boat picture, but what haunts me is that it is lifeless. In fact, it is a picture death and all I can think of is some nuclear disaster. The nature scene exudes life energy, which is just what we need when we go for a check-up. We don’t want our doctor practicing silence, solitude or simplicity when she is checking us--but a good report will put us in the 3Ss mode.
Today I saw the first metal detector of the season. A very large grandfather and a very shy teenager were looking for treasure. “Find anything?” I ask.
“Oh no. I got this (points to the metal detector) two years ago and then I got my cancer, so this is the first time I’ve been out. My granddaughter has the day off (St. Patrick’s Day?) so we thought we’d come out and give it a try.”
“How are you doing with the cancer?” I ask. (I’m amazed at how quickly I step into my old hospice job way of talking.)
“I’ve been free for six months. I’ve learned to enjoy each day,” and on they went.
The many reasons I come to the cottage seem to overlap and take turns on center stage. Today this conversation kept me in the Now as it broke my solitude.
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