Saturday morning I awakened, uncomfortable and sweaty just before dawn. Hormones to blame given my advancing age and lady parts. At first, I was irritated, not only did have absolutely no reason to be up before dawn but I had only gone to bed a few hours before. I’m sure I heaved a big dramatic sigh as I pushed my stiff body to another position in vain attempt to fall asleep again. It was almost dark outside as the early morning pushed towards dawn. It was also incredibly quiet. We live on a busy-ish two-lane highway. Traffic is never heavy but it’s steady and the noise of cars rolling by is broken by silence rather than the opposite effect. But at that hour the road was empty and all I could hear were birds. It was peaceful. So peaceful I didn’t mind being awake.
The Solace of Open Spaces
This phrase ran through my mind as I recalled Erlich’s book from twenty-five plus years before. She was a media guru who left New York to work on a ranch in Wyoming. Her migration was an effort to assuage her grief after losing a lover suddenly and much too young. I hadn’t thought of this book in years but as I lay in bed listening to…well…the splendid noises of silence I remembered bits and pieces of the book. A copy I think I lent out to someone and never got back. And even if I did have it, it’s on a shelf above my head in the workshop. I had to rely on my memory of her story and transformation of the vacant landscape to the north of me. I remember reading the book a few years after it came out. It was one of the books I read as I nursed my oldest son. Poor baby didn’t have the benefit of staring into Mommy’s eyes but he stared into the spine of books: everything from Kierkegaard to Bombeck. Gretel Ehrlich’s meditative story was one of the many books I read and fell in love with that summer.
The setting resonated with me because the summer before, my husband took me to Wyoming and Montana for the first time. I loved the open harsh landscape of the badlands in southern Wyoming. I could see them as Ehrlich described the landscape. I remembered the locals in the tiny side road cafes, so similar to the people who embraced her and helped her overcome a great loss.
I can’t imagine migrating to Wyoming from New York. But perhaps there was too much to look at and experience in New York. In Wyoming, she could be alone with her grief. Nothing distracted from being in the moment. I think that’s what I love about the high desert and the mesas in northern New Mexico. There is nothing for your eye to rest upon so your eyes rest. They stop. Your brain slows and you enjoy the minutiae.
That morning I noticed the single bird song. It was the only sound I heard and I made myself concentrate on each note and trill. Everything else fell away: my insomnia, my to-do list, and my writing schedule. Everything except the bird song.
I’m not very familiar with Buddhism. I think I understand the basic tenants like this “oneness” concept.
But Saturday morning I felt it. I felt it on a cellular level and I carried that oneness through the day. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel it again. I don’t really care. It wasn’t a rushy feeling like I get when I drive fast on a mountain road. The rush I felt was a steady hum in my heart.
“True solace is finding none, which is to say, it is everywhere.”
The first time I ran across this quote my head was stuffed full of existential philosophy and I read it as a doleful and hopeless state of being. There is no such thing as solace. But Saturday when I was revisiting the book and reading excerpts and quotes I read it the way Ehrlich intended that if we allow it solace will find us. As a brilliant stroke of serendipity, the next day I was in the vast and open spaces in NE Colorado. I looked out the window and over his tidy lawn into the open pasture, summer taking it’s toil on the once green grass and remembered that quote again. Later that morning, My friend said: “A lot of people don’t think it’s pretty up here but I do.” I nodded my head. The beautiful and minute details must be searched for in stark landscapes. The simple grass, sky landscape does offer solace.
Saturday morning as I listened to the bird singing solo under a periwinkle sky and just after the title of the book flashed across my brain I realized my life was without any need for solace so I rested in my oneness, dozing back into sleep until the sun was fully up and the other birds created a chorus of chirps and trills.