When I worked at North Cascades National Park, I developed a program called Tuning in to Wildness. It was a program I offered at two of our campgrounds in the evening. As day turned to night, I talked about wilderness and national parks as places that belonged to all of us, places we could go to experience solitude and natural quiet. I asked visitors if they had sacred places where they could go when they needed to escape from the world and be alone. these did not need to be pristine wilderness areas. They could be a corner of a backyard or even a bedroom. When I was little, I liked to hide in my closet. In the darkness of this small space, I felt as though no one could ever find me. I relished this thought. I loved the quiet. I loved this element of being alone.
Living in Lowell, I realize now more than ever the importance of having places we can escape to, places where we can calm the chaos of our mind and body and experience some sense of calm.
This evening, after a day of errands and driving in circles, I could feel the stress boiling over in my body, my entire being consumed with the interminable noise and movement of this pulsating corner of the earth. I went for a walk around the block to try to calm my nerves, but everywhere I walked there were people and cars, trash, and the sounds of the city. Trying to find a place where you can sit and be alone is a tall order in Lowell. It was like walking around the city of Bamako when I was studying in Mali during college. Everywhere I went, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I could never just blend into the background.
There seemed to be nowhere I could hide and calm the pounding in my chest.
Then, I walked toward the Swamp Locks Gatehouse, a site at Lowell National Historical Park where we begin our canal tours. As I walked up to the painted fence, a great blue heron swooped from somewhere hidden below and gently lifted into the air, landing on the stonewall across from me. Looking down, I could see water surging from beneath the gatehouse. It was the first time I had seen water flowing with such power in this part of the canal system.
The effect was intoxicating. The sound was like thunder. It was so loud it drowned out all other sounds.
I sat on the edge and let the rushing water wash over me. For the first time in months, the sound of traffic melted away. It was just me and the rushing water.
The great blue heron flew down and stood stolidly on a rocky island surrounded by the current. I watched it stand there and wondered if perhaps it too needed a haven where it could be free, if only for a few minutes, from the din of the city.
I focused on the bird, and the water became a blur.
I closed my eyes, and I could imagine I was sitting beside a cascading waterfall in a mountain wilderness.
I could feel my body relax.
For a precious moment, I felt free.
And I was.