An ode to untouched places

Beauty likes neglected places.”

John O’Donohue
Folly Beach, SC

One of the things I like about where I work is that it’s next to a protected natural area. We get to see a lot of wildlife that one normally only sees in large state parks or zoos or nature documentaries, which is just an amazing experience.

The thing that always strikes me the most is the silence. No cars, no human noise, none of the pulsating hum of civilization. The stillness is eerie when you first encounter it. You don’t realize just how accustomed you are to constant sound until there isn’t any.

I sat on the front steps of my office building the other day and just basked in that stillness. It’s meditative, in a way, to just stop, and be in a wide open, natural space that isn’t teeming with humans and all of our various turbulence. It’s really quite joyous…at first.

For me, the joyfulness of natural, still places is muddled by an unsettled feeling. Humans are herd animals – we like to cluster. A long, long time ago, we realized that we do better if we live in groups. Now there are so many of us that it’s kind of hard not to. So most humans alive today are used to a certain amount of background noise.

What a strange thing to have forgotten – the silence of true, natural stillness. Now, it’s a thing we escape to rather than a thing we escape from. It’s another one of those shifts in the world and in how we interact with it that we simply don’t think about anymore.

Stillness was not necessarily something valued by people who used to exist within or beside it – I delve from time to time into the world of faery stories and their origins, and it was often the fear of forests or other untamed areas combined with fears about things like diseases or natural phenomena that gave rise to stories of changelings and other meddling creatures. Humans are great Explainers of Things, even if the explanation is more imaginative or symbolic than factual.

If you have the ability, find a still place. Sit in it for a while. Just be. Think about a world filled with such stillness, how different it was.

We’ve lost something more than just our stillness, I think, in filling up the world with as much clutter as we have.