Tag Archives: silence

Peace is not a project, but a gift.

P is so easy. First off, there are the plans I have starting Sunday, to see all of my children over the course of only one week!! (I see that I have nicknamed three of my children with P names, too.) Kate is flying out from DC to see all the family before she starts her new job, and we will make a grand zigzagging tour to see the families of Soldier, Pathfinder, Pippin and Pearl, in that order. p- garden with olive pots pre-plant

So I need to get my place in order here, which mostly means planting. This week I bought a couple dozen pots of ornamentals, because I don’t have the patience to do the seed thing right now, and also I wouldn’t be here to water them next week when they would need constant moisture. I bought pincushion flowers and penstemons, just to mention the plants with “P” names.

My recent method of filling in the spaces in my landscape works like this: I go to p pincushion flowers pre-plant crthe nurseries and see if they have anything that looks familiar to me, that I know from experience or from my research last summer that is both unthirsty and pleases me. I bring the plants home, and wander around for a while studying my 3-D horticultural canvas that has already been extensively “painted.” Each plant has color and shape, and I try to guess if it might, in a year or two, complement and fit in with what is already here. If I tried to do this process more systematically, it would not happen.

For five months I’ve been looking at pots to buy, in which to plant my two mismatched olive trees, and this week I finally made the big decision and brought them home. I’ve been using my little cart quite a bit to haul these pots, bags of planting mix, and pavers to put under the potted olives.

p seeds poppy culinary

I’m still not sure that grey-white is a good color for the space, but it seems prudent to wait on that judgment until after the garden has grown up more around them. Twice in one week I heard the adage about what to expect from a newly installed landscape: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps. If after the leap, I decide I don’t like the color of these pots, I could paint them. They are made of fiberglass and have a matte and somewhat rough finish that would take paint well.

I did spy a packet of appealing poppy seeds when I was in the nursery — it’s risky going to those places! — and they can be planted in the fall, so that’s good.

After all my labors in the afternoon yesterday I  slept well, to a point. Then I was awake for several pre-dawn hours. At first my mind fretted about all those projects that loom in my life, most of which never even get started, everything from cleaning the garage and pruning the rosemary, re-landscaping the front yard and remodeling the great room, to what I suspect are more important things like writing letters and visiting distant friends. But I couldn’t do much about any of that at 4:00 a.m., so I stayed where I was and continued my reading in the novel Laurus.

It is a philosophical book in the way that The Brothers Karamazov is, and a book that reveals the depths of the human spirit across the ages the way that Kristin Lavransdatter does. (Thanks to my reader Beth for reminding me of that.) It makes me think about the essential goal of my own life, far beyond “projects,” to acquire the Holy Spirit.

Both of my housemates were gone overnight, and though I’m sure the house was no quieter for the lack of them breathing in other rooms, I became aware of the silence, and was surprised by it. No traffic sounds intruded, no clocks ticked, and I felt the quietness like a tonic to my body, soul, and spirit, calming even my thoughts. Maybe the Lord woke me so that He could give me that gift, because the silence had presence, and it was the presence of Peace.

pressed into the earth

When in 1930 Jill Ker Conway’s father began homesteading a “block” of 18,000 acres in New South Wales, Australia, the change in lifestyle was jarring for his wife.

When my father left in the morning to work on the fences, or on one of the three bores [wells] that watered the sheep and cattle, my mother heard no human voice save the two children. There was no contact with another human being and the silence was so profound it pressed upon the eardrums. My father, being a westerner, born into that profound peace and silence, felt the need for it like an addiction to a powerful drug. Here, pressed into the earth by the weight of that enormous sky, there is real peace. To those who know it, the annihilation of the self, subsumed into the vast emptiness of nature, is akin to a religious experience. We children grew up to know it and seek it as our father before us. What was social and sensory deprivation for the stranger was the earth and sky that made us what we were. For my mother, the emptiness was disorienting, and the loneliness and silence a daily torment of existential dread.

from The Road to Coorain

western new south wales

Breathing in quietness.


At about 5,000 feet up into the mountains I usually turn off the radio or story, open all the car windows, and breathe deeply of the pine and cedar scents that are so exhilarating. They make me think, “Why oh why have I stayed away so long? How will I bear to go back down to the air of the flatlands?”

wallfower Dinky Ck 7-17-15

But this summer — it didn’t happen that way. At about 3,000 feet I got lost, or at least confused, by taking a couple of wrong turns. When I realized my mistake, it took me a half hour to get back on track. At 4,000 feet, even though it was still 86°, I opened the windows under tall pines, but all I noticed was my shirt hanging in the backseat, as a sleeve started flapping in the rear view mirror.

And I watched the thermometer drop 20 degrees in 20 minutes, as I climbed into the forest. I saw the elderberry bushes in bloom, those tall and friendly plants I’d learned about two years ago, and more than one upland meadow with black cattle grazing. Maybe it wasn’t late in the day for summertime, but I’d forgotten how the sun would go down early, because the trees are so tall, and the valleys deep.P1000783 I discovered that my jaw was sore – evidently I’d been clenching it, so there must have been some anxiety about the time underneath my excitement over all the irresistible photo opportunities.

Where the road crosses a bridge over a creek I stopped to catch the fishermen in the twilight, and found an orange wallflower, that lacking a wall, made do with a post.

P1000799 leopard lily crp
Leopard Lily

The thermometer dropped another twenty degrees in the last hour of my drive, as I got higher and higher and still obeyed the call of the wildflowers to stop and take their pictures — because after all, they might be gone the next time I passed their way! Their glory is short-lived, except for the Pearly Everlasting that seems to hang on and on making a white border by the roadside.

Leopard lilies bloomed in the wetter areas, but the penstemon and paintbrush grew right out of the granite gravel next to the pavement, where they also get the maximum of sun exposure.

paintbrush & penstemon
paintbrush & penstemon


And then, after a journey of eight and a half hours (it “normally” takes me six) during which the temperature ranged from 102° to 57°, I arrived at the door of our beloved cabin! I had by this time forgotten the advice of one of my friends, when I told her about my anxiety: “Breathe deeply when you get in the mountains.” I’m sure when I was sitting at home in the morning and read that message I must have thought, “Well, that comes naturally!”





When I unlocked the door and walked in, I noticed a new sign on the wall:

breathe at cabin 2

I obeyed that word, too, but I was only thinking of how I needed the conscious inhalation to help me relax. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed an hour later that it dawned on me I hadn’t smelled the trees. Was it the drought that was making them hold every droplet of moisture in their needles? Was I to spend several days in their company and never get that mountain perfume? Two years ago when I last was last here, smoke from a huge forest fire in Yosemite was filling my senses with the scent of burning trees.

view from deck

It was the bone-penetrating, soul-healing quiet of the mountains that most affected me during this visit. I was completely solitary for my first evening and morning, and that turned out to be enough time for an intense healing session.

I sat on the deck reading in the morning. Two birds twittered a call-and-response from one Lodgepole pine to another. Up there the sun is baking, and the altitude takes your breath away – or more precisely, takes the oxygen from your breath – and everything combines and causes a heavy sleepiness to fall on you…. Before noon I had to lie on my bed to take a nap. But in the cool of the bedroom I revived and didn’t sleep. I read more in George MacDonald’s Phantastes, the book that C.S. Lewis said “baptized his imagination.”

The protagonist of the story, who is exploring Fairyland, encounters a lovely and deep blue pool: “Led by an irresistible desire, I undressed, and plunged into the water. It clothed me as with a new sense and its object both in one. The waters lay so close to me, they seemed to enter and revive my heart.”

When in my imagination I experienced that Living Water with the swimmer in the story, it was as if the silence of the mountain morning were the pool of God’s healing presence for me at that moment. Then I knew another reality I had read about a few pages before in that book, “Tears are the only cure for weeping.”P1000831

One doesn’t like to imagine breathing water, and I hadn’t yet managed to detect that comforting mountain aroma in the air that I drank hungrily, but stillness and peace were in plentiful supply, and were oxygen for my spirit. That sort of peace is so unfamiliar, it is at the same time both soothing and thrilling.

I was soon to have more good company, both human and atmospheric, and I will tell more about that next time.

Everyone lies naked on a bed of nettles.

I ran across this article, part of a series on education by Anthony Esolen. In the course of describing how the modern world wars against our children’s souls in ways our ancestors didn’t experience, he touches on the topics of play, and why we don’t want to be stimulated, and silence.

I think of the Lord speaking to us, in His silence that communicates so much: “Be still, and know that I am God.” And that is how I know that these issues are crucial. Some excerpts:

It is noise, rather, that is the absence, both of the significant word and of the fullness of being that silence allows us to hear.

…how petty and dreary a thing it is to be stimulated. The stimulus is the prick or spur you dig into the side of an animal. Imagine the horse, slow moving creature when he is content, with his large sad eyes. If we are to make use of him, we must apply the spur.

It is essentially a pornographic world, where everyone lies naked on a bed of nettles, and every new thing is dead before it is born.

Silence is so great a blessing to us because we cannot use it. All things truly creative, which partake of the spirit of play, send their roots deep down into silence.

Read the whole article, Life Under Compulsion: Noise.