Quiet Medicine

Being in our backyard calms—-me—-down.  It is a palpable sensation, beginning within minutes of going out there and just sitting—just watching and listening.  Even though Nadia and I live along a busy street, the traffic noise fades to insignificance in our backyard.  In the front of the house, it can be hard to hold a conversation, but in the backyard you can hear a hummingbird’s wings or the “pips” of the cardinals.

There is always something to see out there, always something happening.  Always.  Today I saw the smallest skink I have ever seen skinking around on the weathered, old deck.  I see tiny wrens slithering through the vegetation looking for insects.  I watch a tiger swallowtail obsessed by one of the few non-native plants we have, Mexican sunflower, which is blooming right through the heat and dryness of this extreme summer.

In front of a computer, I’m in distraction-land.  Right now I have ten tabs open in my browser, from news sources to other blogs to search engines.  This must be a sign of the lack of self-discipline I already know myself to be guilty of.  When I should be writing or researching, I’m often reading about the latest wranglings in our nation’s benighted capitol or compulsively seeing if any new email has come in or checking prices on that new lens I want, but can’t afford.  I’m convinced our electronic “civilization” is designed to prevent reflection.  I think too much thought is truly threatening to certain vested interests.

The other day I watched a young girl driving a large SUV down our street, ear-buds in her ears, eyes down, texting on her phone with both hands.  She may be part of the next iteration of the human animal that is psychologically, and maybe increasingly genetically, adapted to the constant flow of huge amounts of information, little of which is actually useful, and even less of which is actually absorbed and digested.  Multitasking?


Trees and vegetation are known to provide gentle, but effective physical barriers to actual noise–traffic, in particular.  More and more, I believe that they can work to ameliorate the mental noise that chatters ceaselessly in our oh-so-busy minds, or at least slow it to the point that we can pay attention and derive some benefit from it.  In our backyard, I can sit and drift until, almost magically, connections began to be made with what I see and hear and other things that I have experienced or read about.  A little sense can be discerned, lessons can be drawn, patterns begin to emerge.  It becomes possible, a little, to understand the mind of an Emily Dickinson, a keen observer of nature, who could leap from the mundane to the cosmic in a few, precisely chosen words:

Pin oak

Pin Oak

“Nature is what we know
But have no art to say,
So impotent our wisdom is
To Her simplicity.”

Heart rates drop.  Blood pressure settles.  Worries lift a bit.


(Note: Check out this entry at “Nature is My Therapy”, a wonderful blog run by a friend I have never met.   It gave me the impetus to write this entry, which I have thought about for a while. She links to one of many studies showing that nature can help with what ails us. Malls, not so much.)

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3 Responses to Quiet Medicine

  1. Kim says:

    Hi Randy,

    “…the next iteration of the human animal” is a good way to put it, and I find it very sad that humans are evolving in that direction. They won’t even know what they’re missing when quiet and solitude are things of the past.

    (Thanks for the mention too.)

  2. Henry Domke says:

    Love the Pin Oak picture!

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