The Wonders of Solitude

SOLITUDE AND THE NATURAL WORLD

edited by Dale Salwak

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God.
ANNE FRANK
GERMAN DIARIST

Being female and domestic, even when young, I wanted to be alone in a place of my own. I was no baby Byron or Shelley. I had no wish for the solitude of sea or mountaintop, though I liked these well enough, too. But such outdoor solitude didn't need, when I was young, to be stolen. The beaches of Laguna and Newport, of Balboa and La Jolla were still empty. The hills of Yorba Linda were inhabited only by other lovers of solitude: coyotes, rattlesnakes, buzzards. They wanted to be alone as much as I.
JESSAMYN WEST
AMERICAN ESSAYIST

Our adventures in beauty are always closely bound up with our silent moods. A mountain vista, the unbounded sea, or a sunset hush and still the feeble efforts we make to define art.
ROBERT MERRILL BARTLETT
BRITISH THEOLOGIAN

People talk about the silence of nature, but of course there is no such thing. What they mean is that our voices are still, our noises absent.
SUE HALPERN
AMERICAN PROFESSOR

The attraction of berry picking is that it offers time for quiet contemplation. If the mosquitoes and deer flies aren't biting, and if the heat isn't intolerably humid, a person can enjoy an hour or two of busy solitude. . . .
While the fingers are busy plucking berries, the mind is free to wander. Your thoughts go skipping, seemingly aimlessly, contemplating the briars, the plump berries, the song of a bird, the satisfactions and frustrations that happened to you last week. Such reflection puts perspective on one's life, makes you realize where you have been, gives awareness of the forces that shape you into the kind of person you are, makes you better able to deal with where you are going.
RICHARD TRIUMPHO
AMERICAN AUTHOR

I was sitting at my desk and looking out the bay window at some swaying trees and those bright autumn leaves that have not yet fallen to the ground. It is quiet, and I am alone. At this moment I choose to allow the quiet to surround and penetrate me. I can feel the concerns, and plans, and details of an ordinary, busy day recede for a time. I can feel myself quieting down. . . .
OLIVER MORGAN
AMERICAN LECTURER, AUTHOR

The night comes softly, beyond the power line and the blacktop, where the long-abandoned wagon road fades amid the new growth. It does not crowd the lingering day. There is a time of passage as the bright light of the summer day, cool green and intensely blue, slowly yields to the deep, virgin darkness. Quietly, the darkness grows in the forest, seeping into the clearing and penetrating the soul, all-healing, all-reconciling, renewing the world for a new day. Were there no darkness to restore the soul, humans would quickly burn out their finite store of dreams.
ERAZIM KOHAK
CZECH-BORN PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY

Standing quietly in the water, feeling the sand shifting away under my toes . . . I lay back in the floating position that left my face to the sky, and shoved off. The sky wheeled over me. For an instant, as I bobbed into the main channel, I had the sensation of sliding down the vast tilted face of the continent. It was then that I felt the cold needles of the alpine springs at my fingertips, and the warmth of the Gulf pulling me southward. Moving with me, leaving its taste upon my mouth and spouting under me in dancing springs of sand, was the immense body of the continent itself, flowing like the river was flowing, grain by grain, mountain by mountain, down to the sea. I was streaming over ancient sea beds thrust aloft where giant reptiles had once sported; I was wearing down the face of time and trundling cloud-wreathed ranges into oblivion. . . . I was streaming alive through the hot and working ferment of the sun, or oozing secretively through shady thickets. I was water.
LOREN EISELEY
AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALIST

In solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than the human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being.
SIMONE WEIL
FRENCH MYSTIC

We stand, every day and every night, in the very presence of a power so incomparable as to make the senses reel. And yet, happily, this power " the intelligence behind all the marvels of the summer sky " is a benevolent one. The man who pays attention will hear, deep within his soul, a quiet and friendly voice saying: "This, and so much more also, is yours to share."
VERNON R. HARRIS
AMERICAN RELIGIOUS WRITER

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar;
I love not man less, but Nature more.
LORD BYRON
BRITISH POET

Is there another country in the world in which the silence is so perfect? Here in the land of the Eskimos there is no wind in the trees, for there are no leaves. No birds sing. There is no noise of flowing water. No frightened animals flee away in the dark. There is no stone to become loose under human feet and fall down a river bank, for all these stones are walled in by the frost and buried under the snow. And yet this world is far from dead: it is only that the beings which dwell in this solitude are noiseless and invisible.
This stillness which had been so solitary, which had calmed me and done good to my worn-out nerves, gradually began to weigh on me like a lead weight. The flame of life within us withdrew further and further into a secret hiding place, and our heartbeats became ever slower. The day would come when we should have to shake ourselves to keep our heartbeats going. We had sunk deep into this silence, we were paralyzed by it, we were on the bottom of a well from which we could pull ourselves out only with inconceivable difficulty.
GONTRAN DE PONCINS
FRENCH ARCTIC EXPLORER

I got up at sunrise and was happy; I walked, and was happy; I roamed the forests and hills, I wandered in the valleys, I read, I did nothing, I worked in the garden, I picked the fruit, I helped in the house, and happiness followed me everywhere " happiness which could not be referred to any definite object, but dwelt entirely within myself and which never left me a single instant.
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
SWISS-BORN ESSAYIST

Sometimes, on a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
AMERICAN NATURALIST

If you have ever sat on a mountain top and surveyed the country below, you must realize that what you saw was even more beautiful because of the awesome silence which surrounded you. Art galleries maintain a quiet because curators realize that a painting viewed in the midst of noise is less beautiful than when it is contemplated in the midst of silence. One really cannot appreciate the great art treasures housed in museums on days when noisy crowds gather around every object to be viewed. . . . The beauty of art will show itself in greater force in the midst of silence. Not only does silence enhance the beauty of art, but adds to the experience its own sublime beauty.
KARL PRUTER
AMERICAN BISHOP

When I begin to sit with the dawn in solitude, I begin to really live. It makes me treasure every single moment of life.
GLORIA VANDERBILT
AMERICAN ACTRESS, FASHION DESIGNER

From The Wonders of Solitude edited by Dale Salwak. Copyright 1998 Dale Salwak. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $10.95. Available in local bookstores, or by calling 800-972-6657, ext. 52.