Everybody's a Critic, Ministry of Controversy

Solitude and Nature

Do we need to use all of our senses to truly connect with a natural place?

I recently hiked several miles of strenuous, steep trail into one of Utah’s glorious national parks, then stopped just shy of the payoff (a natural stone bridge) because a score of other people were enjoying themselves loudly while hanging around there.

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Viewed from afar, a loud crowd living it up at the natural stone bridge.

The noise bothered me. I couldn’t get a sense of the place, hear the wind or the birds, or muse on the natural monument with any sense of awe, because I wasn’t able to ignore the human voices.

Yes, I’m a seeker of silence, especially when I’m bent on immersing myself in nature. For me, it is part of the experience. I realize not everyone feels this way. For some folks, the enjoyment of a natural place might come from spending time there interacting with other people.

Me, I want to interact with the plants and animals. I want to creep up on the shy lizard surveying its territory from a rock. I want to follow the meadowlark’s song until I can see the bird itself. I want to smell the pines and the milkweeds and the rain-soaked sagebrush.

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This lizard came out onto a rock and surveyed his/her territory during a quiet stretch.

I also want to enable these kinds of experiences within my own garden. That’s my number one goal in my garden: to spend silent, solitary hours wandering and pondering, connecting with nature and with my deepest self.

A large part of connecting with nature is being receptive — not producing one’s own sounds, but noticing and processing external sources of input.

Here is the problem: we are wired to preferentially hear human voices. Our ears actually amplify sounds in the same frequency as the human voice (that, by the way, is one reason gas-powered leaf blowers are so annoying). So as we process the inputs in our environment, we have to work harder to notice the other sounds if human voices are present.

In other words, it’s harder to connect with nature in the presence of other people.

Silence is also a prerequisite for the act of self-reflection: reflecting on one’s own personality and characteristics, explains Daniel A. Gross in this article. “Freedom from noise and goal-directed tasks, it appears, unites the quiet without and within, allowing our conscious workspace to do its thing, to weave ourselves into the world, to discover where we fit in. That’s the power of silence.”

It concerns me that our culture of noise (engines running, music playing, cell phone conversations happening wherever people are) may be preventing us from connecting with nature. It also concerns me that this same culture of noise may be preventing self-reflection.

When you go into your garden—or another natural place—do you too seek silence conducive to thinking deep thoughts and immersing yourself in nature? Do you find it?

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I followed one lizard to its den. See the entrance with slither marks? This kind of tiny discovery makes my nature-lovin’ heart sing.

Posted by on June 1, 2016 at 1:22 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic, Ministry of Controversy.
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11 responses to “Solitude and Nature”

  1. Joe Schmitt says:

    Well said. I spend my days alone in the field serenaded by the shrieks of redwing blackbirds, the murderous conversations of crows, the apoplectic clacking of the sandhill cranes, the low rumble of vintage tractors and the endless trill of tree frogs and my own tinnitis. It is everything but silent and serene.

  2. marcia says:

    Americans drive fewer miles today than in 2005, but since that time the nation has built 317,000 lane-miles of new roads — or about 40,000 miles per year.

    Yet, for the whole of the 1990s —when sprawl development was booming — the country added, on average, about 17,000 lane-miles a year, less than half the current rate.

    Roads, carrying more trucks along with cars and motorcycles with illegal aftermarket mufflers, are avoided by nesting birds and amphibians who rely on communication. Nature suffers, too.

    You may watch the show “Million Dollar Listing” on Bravo about high end real estate. They sell multi million dollar condos on major thoroughfares in NYC . Buyers are concerned about road noise. “You won’t hear a thing with these new windows,” say the realtors. “Great,” says the buyer.

    Prison.

  3. anne says:

    In my experience, being out in nature rarely means being in silence. Wilderness can be a very noisy place! It’s the type of noise that seems to matter….wind, water, birds, grass etc vs. loud voices, traffic, etc. That said, when I was a child I used to fall asleep to the sound of traffic on a nearby highway; at some point, I made the connection that it sounded almost the same as a river near a summer vacation spot we frequented. Very peaceful.

  4. Laura Munoz says:

    Skr, Your article is poetry to my ears because I’m trying hard to sell the house I own with the traffic sounds. I was told by a friend that someone else (besides me) wouldn’t even care about the traffic sounds. Your article seems to validate that. Thanks!

  5. val says:

    Occasionally I get blissful silence, despite living on a fairly busy street. We love the evenings full of birdsong. Unfortunately, there is always some power tool being operated in the neighborhood, whether it be the dreaded leaf blower (love it when they try to blow wet pollen off their deck) or a litany of other machinery–and must everyone cut their useless lawn one after the other, all day long? Or, someone drives by in a souped-up car (regular cars passing at the speed limit are barely noticed). Or, my most annoying neighbor plays music, usually terrible music, and yells his kid’s name over and over (who responds in kind, “Daddy!”). Even the hum of the neighbor’s radon fan is annoying. I have purchased wifi headphones because sometimes all of this gets intolerable, but I’d really just prefer the wind and the birds. I dream of the day I can have a little plot of land and enjoy true silence.

  6. skr says:

    And if you dig down into the literature on meditation practices like mindfullness, you’ll find that quiet solitude can create extreme feelings of anxiety as well as other negative effects in some people.

  7. skr says:

    Not everyone relaxes the same way. Not everyone self-reflects the same way. And now there is some research to support that.

    http://www.citylab.com/navigator/2016/05/why-some-people-find-urban-hustle-invigorating/484412/

  8. jon polvado says:

    I love to some sounds but at other times silence is the balm I seek. The early morning (light or dark) is a wonderful time in the country especially in my garden. It is a most wonderful place and a paradise earth would be even better.

  9. You have truly spoken to my soul! I have come to cherish silence and solitude; I live for it. A garden, any natural space, is meant to serve for the purpose of quiet and reflection, and I do spend countless hours listening, watching, reflecting, praying…marveling in the sight of a first seed sprouting, a bird building her nest…
    Thank you for a great post and for validating that need for silence and reflection. http://perspectivereality.com

  10. Laura Munoz says:

    Well, this is interesting, and I learned something. I didn’t know we are wired to hone in on other human voices above other sounds.

    This explains why I love the house I”m currently living in versus the house I bought hastily that I lived in for only four months before placing it back on the market. Something was missing in that house, but I couldn’t identify it.

    My current house has a yard filled with nature sounds–all kinds of birds–and I spend a large part of my days out in that backyard listening to them, even though I probably can’t identify half of those birds. I crave these sounds and am grumpy when noisy construction sometimes interrupts two doors down.

    In contrast, that other house was silent except for the sounds of traffic. There were squirrels but very few nature sounds. Did the birds leave because of the traffic?

    Most of the time, I don’t have the TV or music blaring in the background inside of my house and apparently this bothers some people. I once received a complaint from a plumber’s helper who asked me what was wrong with me.–Why don’t you have the TV on? Why isn’t there any background noise? Because I like it that way! I can hear myself think.

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