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.
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.
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
ROBERT MERRILL BARTLETT
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.
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. . . .
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. . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
When I begin to sit with the dawn in solitude, I begin to really live. It makes me
treasure every single moment of life.
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.