Sacred places: Craving silence, stillness
I was exchanging emails with an old friend, David Miller, who moved from Charleston to Canaan Valley after retiring from Union Carbide. Then a few months back, he and his wife left Canaan Valley for the West Coast to be closer to their sons.
In our emails, we were talking about how it is for West Virginians to adjust to life in a new place, and David’s phrasing perfectly expressed this sentiment. I asked if I could share some of what he wrote.
“Back in Canaan,” wrote David, “I had ready access to places of isolation. I could immediately access the Sod or Wildlife Refuge. Even on a busy weekend there were a multitude of places I could go and find solitude along a waterfall or ridge top or in the woods. Where we live now is not generally crowded or busy, but there is an ever presence of people.
“A naval base is nearby,” he continued, “and I often hear the rumble of fighter jets. When the jets aren’t flying, there’s a background distant noise of traffic or a neighbor doing yard work or kids playing. None of these are disturbing, but they signal the presence of people nearby.”
In the part of Atlanta where I now live, just a half dozen miles from midtown, the homes are older and relatively small, with a few McMansions oddly interspersed here and there. Our neighborhood is heavily wooded, with massive old trees and large yards and a wide, stony creek. We have deer and foxes and owls, and the occasional opossum. I can almost convince myself I’m not where I am.
Except much like the place David described, we live near enough to an airport to occasionally hear the rumble of planes. The interstate is a few miles away, so although distant, there’s a never-ending whirring wheels sound. Somewhere behind us is a neighborhood pool, the sounds of laughter and splashing carry over into our yard, mixed with people calling out over and
over as they search for two perpetually lost local boys, Marco and Polo.
While we might often get to feel as if we’re alone, we so clearly aren’t.
Wrote David, “If I go to a local state park, the trails show the wear and tear of foot traffic. Lots of foot traffic. Most people would consider where we currently live as rural. By comparison, I feel it is crowded.”
Like David, I grew up walking in woods that were woods, not woods that were parks. Wild versus tamed. Trails which appeared as though they were first made by deer, rather than boardwalks or paved.
In West Virginia, it was easy to discover places where it felt as if my feet might be the first to ever tromp across a certain area. In my part of Georgia, not so much. I crave solitude in ways that make me feel a bit insane for having moved to the city. I crave silence and stillness and wild places that bear no trace that others were there. And while I expect there are less traveled trails all over this state, they aren’t quite as near my back door.
Wrote David: “Back in Canaan, I was aware how blessed I was to have access to solitude and peace, and I knew I would miss it, but had no idea how stressful it’s absence would prove. It makes me wonder if I will ever adjust. I expect I will. The move has created voids in my life. It will take time to fill them with other activities.”
He mentioned life’s simple pleasures and how they provide comfort, solace, and a sense of stability.
“When they go missing,” David said, “it’s a bit like a boat losing its anchor.”
Like David, I’ve struggled with feeling untethered. There’s this place that I loved, that fit me so well, that I had to leave. And this business of perhaps not fully appreciating what I had until it was gone.
But in this, we are fortunate. Our much-loved state is still there. It’s just us who are not.
Karin Fuller can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.