Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting Away


I've enjoyed getting back to work, the routine that's anything but, the noise, the activity, the lines of reasoning and questions. The "Hey B!", "Doc!" or simply, "I need your help". But on a daily basis I need just a little bit of quiet time, just to myself, no cell phones, no TV, no schedule. Just the secret, strong murmur of silence.

Some people have a real hard time with the quiet though, finding it illuminates those things within themselves best left hidden. Quiet brings that time in which you can ponder the extremities of loss and the destiny of flesh, something most people don't want to put the remote down long enough to consider.

But there are noises that bring only a smile. What is a the first sound that you can remember? As a child, I remember the sounds of the kitchen, my Mom cooking something. I remember the sound of the front door, a heavy hardwood door that shut with the announcement of "Dad's home!". Dad would walk in and kiss my Mom. Not a peck on the lips, but a long kiss and she'd giggle, there with flour on her face and that is the sound I first remember.

I remember the sound of bat meeting ball as we played with my oldest brother out in the back field. The CRACK as aerodynamics and physics joined, the ball just a spherical dream of speed heading out into the trees as our dog Pepper raced to recover it before we did.

I remember the sound of the piano, as I practiced hour after hour as a child. Beethoven, Bach, Debussy. The sounds of the music filled the house, filling me, the opening chords of Rhapsody in Blue awakening something in me I was too naive to articulate.

I remember the sound of taps played at a funeral of someone I knew, the wreckage of duty crashing on the ears of those who are left. But it was a sound that fell without lasting damage for we were raised to be fighters, stronger than wreckage, taller than fear. Honor the fallen and continue the fight.

And always and forever, I remember the outdoors, walking or fishing with Dad. A way to get away from the artillery sound of traffic, away from school, worries, bills and whatever it is we need to occasionally shed the load of, even if we always hold the responsibility. Dad could spend all day in hip boots,in a Western stream poised with the relaxation of that first cast of the line. No sound at all, but the gurgle of the water, the wisp of a line as it traveled through the air, with a sense of direction more than speed, carefully seeking those quiet pools where sustenance lay. When he came home we sensed something in him much bigger than the steelhead that he laid on the table. Something he had needed, and somehow found.

My escape has been the hunting camp where even with friends I could seek the inarticulate solitude of a cathedral of trees, where I could watch the moon grow round in the darkening sky as I waited for the flash of a white tail. In the woods even the the most profound acts seem simpler. The crack of a rifle, the crash of a large buck, that act of deliberately taking the life of the game of the forest to put meat on the table; so clear and closing in its sound that no words needed to be spoken. The echo of the shot, the strident fall of the deer remained insular, wrapped up quietly within the chronicle of outdoor life, only to be spoken of in reverent, hushed whispers around a campfire.

Just as there were days of plenty, there were the days of cold feet and a cold barrel but we wouldn't take them back for anything. Whatever we could gain that would set us free of obligation to the suburbs might have been beyond our reach that day, but not beyond our desire. We wouldn't throw down our weapon and stomp out of the forest stopping at the nearest mini mall for takeout. We would wait, there in the blind, there in the stain of dying brush, waiting for it when it came, and doing without if it didn't. Sometimes those meals after, of beans and fresh biscuits and bacon, were the best of all, as we looked forward to the next opportunity to head back out to forest and cornfields ripe with whitetail.

But too soon came time to return to neighborhood and work, hours of travel, the groan and rumble of an airplane, the vibration felt from the yoke to my bones, the cadence and sorrow of air rushing past, left behind in the wake of strained metal. There were hotels in the city, waking to the staccato bursts of sound from the street, cars, shouted curses, and horns. Even where I used to live,with neighbor's far apart on sometimes acres of land, but the Starbucks three miles away, there was no such thing as real quiet, There's the neighbors lawnmower at 9 pm, dogs barking or a shouting match off in the distance between people caged too long.

You either adapt to it, or you get away. I voted for the getting away part. A four lane addition to the road from a less than good part of the city to the north end of our little town brought with it gang graffiti and crime. Properly values were crashing. We had our first rape. A woman was beaten to death with a claw hammer. There were a number of break and grab burglaries in my aneighborhood, kids, the cops said, taking small electronics, cash and booze, but it worried me. I realized that I was close enough in that if there was trouble, I wouldn't be able to defend the place too long even with back up. I wanted to be further out. If not full time, at least a place for the weekends and holidays. Not so far out that when I go walk along the creek I hear the sound of a banjo, but far enough to be away from the major roads and cities in the event of a disaster where the unprepared come to loot the prepared. So I made the decision to sell the place before prices dropped even more, and save for a chunk of land.

Someone said "you're going to get your own Walden Pond?" I've read Thoreau, who chronicles his life off the grid in his writings. I found his words moving but found little in common with a middle aged man who probably couldn't field dress a deer if he had to. But there was one thing he wrote of that I have always identified with. He talked of judging the cost of something but how much life you had to expend to get it. I left a relationship long ago for that reason, because in terms of cost to my being for what I got from it, it violated my sense of thrift. It's the same reason I got rid of a huge house of space I didn't need any longer and unnecessary possessions. Things are precious when they are few and carefully selected. If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt.

So I gave away to those in need or sold half my possessions, rooms of furniture, all the useless decorative clutter, keeping only the art that I truly liked, my books, the furniture that's hand crafted and comfortable and the tools of my life that I really need. Some said I was foolish, as a woman alone, there's safety in a busy town, a steady finality in the noise of a large neighborhood. So there is, as well, in the sound of the scrape of metal against a pine box. These are the people who also tell me that I shouldn't have a gun, the police will take care of me; those that speak imperious and loudly, not hesitant of opposure or argument, simply impotent to conceive either.

I'm renting a small place away from there. It allows me to save quite a bit of money and it's in a safer area, further from the city but close to where I can get in to work. Hopefully in a couple of years I will have saved enough to build a small cabin or buy a small farmhouse with cash, a place where the world will only intrude if I wish it to. I'll likely keep or share a small apartment or house in town for work if I'm too far out, but as soon as I clock out, it will be empty as I drive towards the quiet. There will be my time alone, walks out, firearm on my hip, lest I encounter a mob of chipmunks. There will be my times to just sit, out on a felled log. Time to stop, without schedule as I watch the sky turn from the subtle grey of an unpainted church to the deep purple darkness of a priest's robe, the stars impenetrable and invisible, as if waiting for us before they showed themselves.

Barkley will be sitting by my side, hoping we're under a dog biscuit tree, soon to shed its fruit. We'll wait, serene and still, the moon shining on nibbled shadow, content to just sit underneath the starry sigh of heaven. The only other lights are as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, barely remembered like the smell of decay, sensed only in the instant of its knowledge and then fading to dim memory as you move away from it. Dark and far away, as such things should remain for as long as possible.

From where we sit, an owl will call, the sound unintelligible amongst the vernal branches. As a satellite tracks the sky, the owl calls again, a call to go home. And within, there will be an old Victrola, a ham radio, lots of books and some board games for when I have those I love stay. There will be my little computer to write and communicate. In much of the daily breath I draw there will be noise, but it will be the sound of a blade striking wood, the sun shimmering off of the blade like silver. It will be the crack of a rifle shooting on my land, the tool I will use for provision and protection. It will be the hum of machinery as the shop takes shape, room for more tools, room for more freedom. There will be voices, but they will those of reasoned discourse among friends, as though many of us chose to live away from civilization, we are not so naive to think it doesn't deeply impact us, our safety and our liberty.

It will be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It will be life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields, walking out into the constant trees, alone when I need to be, but not forlorn, intractable and accountable. Walking on forward, rhythmic steps into the hushed, secret shade of life off the grid.


  1. Quiet is a wonderful restorative for me, something that's increasingly hard to find, these days. My wanderings took me to a mountaintop over the weekend, where I could see vistas of blue skies, clouds, and mountains. The only sound was my thoughts, and even that quieted as I contemplated the view.

    You've said it here better than I can (a remark I make often, here), so thank you for that.

  2. I remember crickets... But then I grew up in the country... :-)

  3. Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers;

    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
    Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
    As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
    Were all too little...

  4. Here's hoping all your dreams of peace and quiet come true.

  5. The list of people whose company I crave grows shorter each year, and the ones who remain on the list, are those who can sit with me for hours and say nothing. Sometimes the words are just stones, to weigh us down.

    Silence doesn't have to mean solitude, if your companion knows when to shut up. And doesn't snore too loud.

  6. I'm hoping you find your place of peace and quiet. I'm hoping you find a special one to share it with you and that he doesn't snore too loud.

  7. Rev Paul -Thank you. After a death in my family I went to Alaska, latched onto a float plane and traveled around for 3 months. I understand.

    Old NFO - I have one of those "white noise" machines for the bedroom to hide outside noise. One of the settings is "crickets". We had a telecon with squirrel headquarters. They tell us to mute our phones,whether we are in our office or teleworking, but ocassionally you get some chatter,small talk or laughter. It was an unbelieveably long and pointless telecon. On my end they eventually got crickets.

    Keith - welcome. Wonderful words, thank you for that.

    doublebhomestead - I'll be putting a thousand or so a month in the bank. (I'm living VERY simply and cheaply). When the student loans are paid off in September, there's another $1000 a month. Added to what I have saved already, it should be Operation Cabin 2014.

    Og - you didn't snore at deer camp, you were the zombie invasion early warning system. You and your family are on my short list as well.

  8. The wife wanted you to know we have similar thoughts and longings... for the day we toss the pig-tailed energy-saving bulbs for the light of a lantern or the flicker of a candle... the room that is centered around a wood stove or fireplace instead of a flat-screen...

    Hope you're getting better each day... you're still in our thoughts and prayers...

    Dann in Ohio

  9. I remember the clink of plates as my mom did dishes while I laid in bed, secure and safe. As NFO said - crickets, and in my part of the country - Whip poor wills. As a kid, I loved sitting outside in the evening and hearing them calling from a distant tree line while watching fireflies. You took me back. Thanks, Brigid.

  10. "If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt."

    There's a ton of truth in that insight.

    I've lived both in cities and in rural areas, I find rural living a lot safer. And freedom much easier to achieve there.

    You'll get there, because you know exactly what you want.

  11. Great post.

    Snagged the "Taps" bit and linked it. That really touched a nerve.

  12. While I still must deal with my world, a bit of isolation and freedom, in that order, is what I'm working towards. Very nicely described, Brigid. Thanks.

  13. I am always in awe of the artistry in your photographs. You have a wonderful eye. More, always more, please.

  14. That is one of the most beautiful post's I have ever seen. I love being out away from the bustle of the crowd. Simple is always better I think, you live longer and happier.

  15. We seem to have about the same goal as the Wife and I am actively looking to move. We are much too close to a major metro area if the SHTF and high state and local taxes are not helping either.

    So hopefully we can both achieve our goals and dreams!

    BTW: I understand your need for silence. There is something very peaceful about sitting in the house with neither TV or radio on, reading a book.

  16. Hi, you have a beautiful way with words, and I enjoy your writing very much. When you get time, you should write a book based on your memories and experiences. I can feel the places and things you write as I read them.


    Rick Wickwire

  17. Last spring before a big storm hit, the city was quiet, except for the sound of frogs. People were tucked away in their houses against the impending storm. It was amazing to see the lightning on the deep blue horizon and only hear frogs. This of course was followed by a mad dash to the basement as the storm hit. Without the contrast of people and all their noises to the quiet times and places, would we appreciate the quiet as much?

  18. May your pathway and your efforts bring you to your hearts-desire. The life you describe reminds me of the way my sweetheart lives, out in his woods on the edge of the river. I thank you as always for your vivid words.

  19. LOVE it Brigid... That gives me an idea, I need to get one of those for my office :-)

  20. Dann - that's a problem in our country. More TV and less God.
    Hello and a hug to your family.

    45er - glad I can stir up a memory. I have a recipe for peanut butter pound cake with dark chocolate ganache. Do you want me to email you a copy?

    naturegirl - I've read enough of your posts to understand that you truly get it. You will find your happiness, when others won't recognize it.

    MSgtB - any time, my friend.

    AussieAlaskan - it's all a journey, even if it takes me a while, I'll enjoy every step.

    Ed - thank you. When the last student loan is paid off this fall I'm buying a better camera (Mine cost $150) It's GREAT outdoors, but the indoor photos stink unless I take them on a sunny day, near the window. I'm glad you enjoy.

    Duke - thank you. I hope your mother in law keeps up the good fight.

    Don - I can go days without the TV on. That just drives some folks nuts.

    RickWick - thank you Sir. Welcome!

    Mrs. S. - we wouldn't, would we?

    Alison - I'm glad you have someone to share those times with.

    Old NFO - It's fun. I had a job once where I had a polycom with some interns who were REALLY REALLY nervous, as I was sort of the boss. With my colleages at the big table keeping a totally straight face, I leaned into the camera and said, hushed, "we aren't wearing any pants" and they all cracked up and the training session went exceedingly well.

  21. Hi Brigid,

    My wife snapped a picture over the weekend and thought you just had to have a copy.

    You're free to use this on your blog if you wish.


  22. Brigid, I would LOVE that. Funny you mention it, I never have gotten around to making the bread, but was planning on it this weekend. I also have a special surprise to send you when we start processing our venison. I'll be in touch on that. Thanks so much.


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