There is something in silence

Even in the relative peace and quiet of our backyard, my mind buzzes.  While a titmouse is making its monotonous, but very determined, call to attract a mate, while the wind whooshes through tree branches, and a red-shouldered hawk cries out a block or so to the west, my mind is rattling on about things I should be doing and running a well-worn Moody Blues tune in the background.

Sometimes, if I work at it, I can quiet it down, but it takes an effort and I can only do it for a couple minutes at a time.  In those brief periods, however, the world around me seems to snap into a sharper focus—sounds are clearer, colors stand out that I hadn’t noticed before, I can smell the grass and soil.  Then here it comes again, “Lovely to see you again my friend.  Walk along with me to the next bend…”, “I really need to get that fence fixed….”, “I have to cut mats for five prints before Thursday…..”.  Off to the races.

I bet a few years in a Zen Buddhist monastery would help with this.  Nadia might object, though.

It’s a distracting world and our minds need very little excuse for reveling in that.  If things on the outside get too tame, we’re pretty good at cooking up constant distractions on the inside and not so good at shutting them off.  We try mindfulness and  meditation exercises to focus our attention on what’s there and get our internal and eternal chatter under control, but it’s major effort, not be taken lightly.

I suppose that’s why I’ve never understood why so many folks seem to try to increase the distractions that wall us off from what’s around us.

Standing on a trail a few days ago, I was absorbed in trying to plot the movements of a woodpecker of some kind, following the sounds of its hammering as it moved rapidly around what may have been its territory.  I couldn’t see it at all, and when I looked in one location where the sound was coming from, it was already quite a ways off in another direction.  It was moving so fast and frequently that I figured the hammering probably wasn’t a search for food, but maybe was for establishing boundaries.

Glancing down the path, I saw a man climbing uphill toward me, followed by his dog.  He was staring fixedly at the trail, so as he got closer I gave a little cough to let him know I was there.  Didn’t want to startle him.  No reaction.  A little closer, then I called out “Good morning!”.


Finally, I stepped just off the path, and when he came opposite me, no more than three feet away, he suddenly jumped, startled, and said a nervous “hello!”.  That’s when I saw the earbuds.

Now, the vegetation hadn’t really leafed out yet, and I was wearing a fairly bright, blue shirt in the brown woods and standing in the open.  If he couldn’t detect me, I wonder if he saw anything at all during his walk in the spring forest?  Why even be there?  Exercising while that distracted would be much safer and easier on a treadmill, seems to me.

When I described this little incident to Nadia later, she said “He was there for the dog.”  Ah, yes.  That’s probably right.  I do know that the dog wasn’t startled when he came up alongside me and probably had me spotted way back on the path.  That pooch was in the moment.

On another occasion, I was walking across the University of Missouri campus when a red-tailed hawk sailed overhead about fifteen feet off the ground, calm and serene. I stopped to watch, but noticed that, not only were no other people watching, but apparently nobody even noticed the hawk was there.  Lots of earbuds all around and lots of fixed stares directed at cellphones.  That hawk had the place all to itself, except for me.

I fight a more or less constant battle to lessen my mental noise and let the world in, but many people seem to dislike, or maybe even fear, the kind of silence that can result from that.  I don’t know if it’s the outside that makes them uncomfortable, or something internal that needs to be kept at bay, but there must be something.  None of my business, I guess.

I never did see that woodpecker or figure out what it was doing, but it kept doing it after man and dog had passed.  Flickers called farther out among the trees.  The breeze sighed through the almost bare branches, and down by the creek, water murmured over stones.  Harbinger of Spring and Spring Beauty blossoms peeked up from the leaf litter.  For a few precious minutes, the Moody Blues shut up and the world tiptoed in….

Spring Daffodils

Spring Daffodils----(Just because I had room for a picture)

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4 Responses to There is something in silence

  1. Kim S. says:

    Randy, I agree whole-heartedly with you about the earbuds! I see that all the time on my walks too. And even more frustrating, when my husband goes out walking and/or birding with me, he spends more time looking down at the ground lost in thought than he does absorbing what’s going on around him. (You won’t find any birds down there, hon…) I try to gently nudge him to take advantage of the benefits of nature, but it’s sort of his habit to focus inward most of the time. I feel sad when I see people not noticing cool things in nature, but I’m sure I’ve been one of those people sometimes too.

    And I have to say, when our tufted titmice are droning on and on every morning, I do wish I could tune them out!

    P.S. If you happen to see my new blog post, it’s a pure coincidence that I also posted a daffodil picture. I wasn’t copying you…..honest!

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Being outdoors has the opposite effect on me, even though I’m a classic introvert. It pulls my attention outside of my head and into whatever is happening. Other than that, I can definitely relate to your husband being lost in thought, being a dedicated ponderer myself.

      No monopoly on daffodils here! (That was actually an old picture from Southern Illinois—Giant City State Park. I’ve heard that clusters of daffodils in the woods generally mark the sites of old homesteads. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but it seems to have been a really common exotic ornamental back in the day. Still is, I guess.

  2. Carol Weston says:

    Hi Randy, finally found your blog so am reading some older ones! I am outdoors as much as possible and usually with camera in hand; what never ceases to amaze me are those people that show up in beautiful natural areas walking or running or walking their dogs but have ear buds in! They miss a whole world of amazing sounds and sights by being “plugged in”. But, flip side is, sometimes I get so distracted by certain sounds or birds, for instance, that I may miss something else that is incredibly close and very visible such as a deer prancing 10 feet from me:) I cannot tell you how many times I have been so focused on taking a photo of something, only to get home, put it on the computer and find out there were other animals in the photo too that I totally missed so I guess you don’t have to wear earbuds to miss things, we all do at times, with or without help. Nature provides a meditative state of selective awareness for me!

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Hi Carol. Thanks for reading! Yeah, I don’t want to be too judgmental, because I guess we all have our distractions. Photography is certainly one for me, too. I have also had the experience of taking a picture, then later looking at it in Photoshop and seeing things I had not been aware of all. Mine are usually bugs, though, not deer. It’s incredibly hard to be highly focused all the time.

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