After months and months of dealing with Long Covid (on top of a long-term health condition), I can't manage long walks with Tilly yet, so we usually head to the woods close by -- where I sit while Tilly prowls through the underbrush, never straying far. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write, and sometimes I do nothing at all, absorbing the quiet while beech, holly, oak and ash all absorb me in turn.
Once she's explored the terrain, Tilly sits close: ears cocked, nose twitching with every scent. I watch her and wish I could see as she sees, hear as she hears, live as fully in this bright moment in time -- remembering that I am an animal too, made of water and wind and the dust of stars.
The life of a freelance writer and editor is measured in hours of productivity, and it takes some effort to slough off guilt when time spent silent among the trees results in no tangible accomplishment: no pages written or manuscript read or email answered or paycheck earned. And yet I'm convinced that it's on such moments that every other part of my creative life rests.
The land is muse, teacher, and mentor. It is doctor, pastor, and therapist. It is the place where I return to myself when the jangle of life, the demands of work, and the ceaseless clamour of the Internet lead me astray. In the quiet of the greenwood it all fades away. I can hear my own softer voice once again.
But now I am justifying time spent outdoors by emphasizing the manner in which it supports my productivity back in the studio -- and while this is true, it is not the only truth. Quiet moments are worth much more than this. I will not measure their value in output, in books and paintings made and sold. I will not hang a price tag on my love for the natural world. I am not a consumer of the forest, obtaining my money's worth from the trees and grasses, the fungi and moss. I am just a woman sitting in the green arms of the Mother who made me. Just sitting. Just healing. Just being, for these precious moments, alive and present.
I am not dismissing the importance of productivity for those of us working in the arts, or of enagagement with the media and marketplace which places our work in the hands of others, for I believe that art is important, even sacred, and is capable of no less than changing the world.
But then, so is this: these quiet hours in the dappled light of the greenwood, with my good dog beside me. It changes my world. It changes me. And that's all the value it needs.
"I pin my hopes," said the Quaker writer Rufus Jones, "to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place."
I pin my own hopes to the rustle of leaves, the murmur of water, the grace note of the birdsong overhead; to the ordinary, daily domestic act of rising in the morning and walking the dog. And to art, of course, but also to this. To the quiet of the woods.
The quote by Quaker historian and philosopher Rufus Jones is from a letter to Violet Holdsworth, 1937. The poem in the picture captions is from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2012). All rights reserved by the authors' estates.