"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Great Outdoors

 I find myself missing nature lately. I miss the intense quiet that comes along with walking through the woods, the way some sounds are muffled and some, especially human ones, are amplified. It reminds me of how clumsy we really are compared to most animal species, like we can't go anywhere without causing a ruckus. As cliche as it sounds, I miss the sound of birdsong and the roar of rushing water and the rustle of wind through thousands of leaves high above my head. It's not just that, though. It's the way the rest of the world falls away so easily, so quickly, as if cars and fast food chains and skyscrapers never even existed. Nature gives us the power to step away from the complexity of everyday life and simply be alone with ourselves.

From a walk I took while visiting Minnesota over Spring Break

For a few days, it seemed like spring had come to Iowa. Temperatures crept up to the mid 40s. The sun graced us with its presence. I felt the same rush of giddy excitement that always accompanies the approaching of summer. But something was missing. I didn't realize until I moved to Cedar Rapids how much nature a city like my hometown of Houston contains. There are countless nature centers, parks, and even the occasional wild space that remains untouched by development. Plus, I'm pretty sure there are simply more trees in Houston, those incredibly beautiful oaks suspended in frozen reverie, limbs bowing until they almost touch the ground. I'm not saying that Cedar Rapids is lacking in natural beauty. There's the lake where we raced dragon boats during freshman orientation, and the tree outside my dorm room window that I watched change through the seasons. There's even a grassy park by New Bo Market complete with a meditation circle and a rock sculpture. But I'm beginning to realize that spending too much time away from even the tamest of forests is starting to wear on me. I can only take so much of the manicured lawn (or in the winter, barren tundra) that is the quad. Instead, I find myself daydreaming about camping with my dad, how everything tasted better when it was cooked outdoors.

And yet, while reminiscing about my favorite spots, I ran into several things that bothered me. I find it sad that most wild places, even those in the midst of cities, are inaccessible without a car. I find it strange that in Memorial Park, the majority of the patrons use the running paths along the perimeter. On one side of the path is a tangled mass of branches, on the other a busy thoroughfare. Why drive somewhere to be close to nature, but not to immerse yourself in it?

Living in the city, it can be so easy to forget that there are any wild spaces left. We go about our daily lives, in tune with the rhythms of ticking clocks and rush hour traffic, and we don't realize that anything's missing. I didn't even realize how far I'd fallen into this trap until I listened to the following radio programs in short succession. They are informative, imaginative, and inspirational, and they made me re-imagine the way we interact with the natural world:

1. "Wild Ones Live" - 99% Invisible: This episode of one of my favorite podcasts is actually a live recording of a band/author duo that explores the complex intersections between animals and humans.

2. "The Last Quiet Places: Silence and the Presence of Everything"- On Being: Mind-altering interview with Gordon Hempton, "who defines silence not as an absence of sound but an absence of noise."

 I suppose I'll leave you with a quote from an One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton:

"Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It lives here, profoundly, at One Square Inch in the Hoh Rain Forest. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it." [Source]

I hope this long winded assessment of my relationship with nature makes you think a little more deeply about your own. It could be time to consider how long it's been since you took a walk in the woods.


  1. Love this post, and all your previous ones! But especially this one. The quote too, about how "silence is not the absence but the presence of everything" is so beautiful and true. Speaking of silence, the newest Art Assignment on youtube deals with finding the "quietest place", so if you haven't seen it yet, you should go check it out! Also, I was so happy to find that you've been posting so much on your blog! I haven't read any blogs recently, so when I came back here again it was a really nice surprise to find 3-4 'new' posts! yee! I enjoyed getting glimpses of your college life through what you remembered when you thought about times you've been in nature too. The part about how everything tasted better when cooked outdoors is true too, and gives the greatest image of tall green pine and the scent of pigs-in-a-blanket from somewhere small below. This post really makes me want to write!

  2. Indigo- I'm so glad you enjoyed this post! I've been having a bit of blogger's block since I wrote this, but you comment makes me feel inspired again. (I guess we're good at inspiring each other :) I really love the art assignment about quiet spaces and I really want to try it. My first thought was the Cedar Rapids Art Museum. Do you think it has to be an outdoor space? Haha I love this: "The part about how everything tasted better when cooked outdoors is true too, and gives the greatest image of tall green pine and the scent of pigs-in-a-blanket from somewhere small below." I imagined you high up in a tree, with the smell of pigs in a blanket wafting upwards. Sorry if thats not what you were going for; it's still a really cool image. Anyway, keep your eye out for more posts to come!