(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)
I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.
Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.
After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.
There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.
As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.
I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”
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I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.
During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.
After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.
Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.
I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.
Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”
When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.
Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.