The still point at the center of my life

0032_The still point at the center of my life

This slumbering hillside forms the backdrop of my childhood. This frozen pond, these winter trees are part of the small wilderness I consider home. I grew up here.

In the spring of 1959, when I was just nine months old, my parents sold their small bungalow across town and moved to their new home: a two-story colonial nestled among the trees on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Apart from the time I spent away at college, this house, where my dear father still resides, is where I lived until I married and moved to a home of my own.

From the dawning of my awareness, these woods have welcomed me. When I was small, I’d stand at my bedroom window, rest my chin on the white wooden sill, and gaze up at the budding oaks, whose unfurling leaves waved to me with hundreds of tiny, pink hands. When the cool breath of evening wafted in through my open window and billowed my white curtains, I’d drift to sleep to the soul-filling sound of tree frogs trilling beside the pond.

I spent my childhood wandering these woods, and I still know them by heart. I can find the places where spring beauties and wood violets grow. In summer, I can walk the winding gravel road that curves around to the pond and spot the turtles that sun themselves on half-submerged logs. Chickadees still sound an alarm if I venture too close, and the turtles still splash their hasty escape. In autumn, when the wind brings rumors of the coming chill, showers of leaves spiral down to form a lush tapestry for my feet on this woodland floor. The sun slants in through bare branches in winter, spilling pools of golden light across the snow-covered pond, painting long shadows on the blue-washed hills where I used to sled with my friends.

Like woodland creatures that retreat to nests, thickets, and burrows, I have always sought refuge in quiet places where I can let the busy world pass by. My favorite childhood hideaway was under the low canopy of bridal wreath bushes that bordered our property. Invisible to passersby beneath slender branches that swept the grass, I’d make myself as small as possible and hide there during neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek. I loved to sit under the bending branches in June and shake their clustered blossoms, causing a storm of white confetti petals to rain all around me. In this out-of-the-way place under the bridal wreath, I’d listen to robins and cardinals sing in the oaks overhead, feel the wind cup my face, watch a ladybug explore a leafy world. Perhaps it’s just my temperament, or perhaps it’s because I grew up so close to nature’s heart; whatever the reason, I’ve always had a need to be quiet, safe, and alone in a place where I can give myself over to uninterrupted thought.

Once, when I was three, Momma lost me. She had sent me upstairs for my afternoon nap, but later, when she came to wake me, I was nowhere to be found. She looked for me upstairs, then downstairs. She went outside and called. I didn’t answer. She made a second search of the house, then ran to the woods, terrified I might have wandered down to the pond alone. She asked our next door neighbor to please help look for me. They called my name across the woods, walked down to the pond, came back to the house, growing more and more frantic. I don’t know how long they searched, but I was discovered at last, sound asleep on the cool floor under my bed. I was safe, and I wasn’t scolded. I wasn’t trying to be naughty; I had simply isolated myself in a quiet place.

All these years later, I’m still this way. During the growing season, you’ll find me outdoors, tending my flowers, listening to the crickets, watching a hawk circle overheard. If I can’t be outside, you’ll find me somewhere indoors in a quiet spot. As the years have gone by, I have come to understand how deeply impressionable and sensitive I am. Life has such an impact on me that I require hours of stillness to restore my senses and process my thoughts.

This is why I love these woods: they were my first sanctuary, the still point at the center of my life. They’ll always be part of my heart’s terrain, and I’ll forever be a child of this place, as rooted as the trees that have grown up around me.

10 thoughts on “The still point at the center of my life

  1. I can’t even imagine what it is like to go home to a ‘home’ you have known for that long of a time. What a treasure of memories and thoughts and oh the joy to just ‘have that continual stable presence’. You are very blessed and fortunate to have those beautiful memories. I pray you continue to keep this home long after your father is gone. Tradition and history is so important especially these days.

    • I read somewhere, Sharon, that one of the things people crave most is a sense of rootedness, and it’s a topic I may delve into further. In the mad rush of the modern world, there is such little time to pull back, unplug, and be still. Many thrive on a busy schedule; I’m afraid I’m quite the opposite, and vastly prefer solitude. I don’t know whether this is simply my natural preference, or whether it’s because my mother made a point of sharing nature with me and allowed me oceans of quiet time to absorb it. What I do know for certain is that the woodlands and the creatures who live there are part of me, as dear to my heart as my own family. I agree with you wholeheartedly that tradition and history are increasingly important in this transient world. Thank you so much for connecting with me here! xoxo

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and am continually moved by your gift of words, and your keen sensitivity to the world around you. This particular piece resonated deeply as I, too, was a child who sought comfort in nature and quiet. I continue the need to tap into that sanctuary of stillness. Thank you for taking my hand and walking me into your world, which mirrors my own. Thank you for the beauty of your writing.

    • Maude, it’s so good to know that you, also, are a child of nature and a seeker of stillness. I’m delighted to know you enjoyed a brief walk with me into the quiet woods of my childhood. May you continue to find peace, solace, and centeredness in nature’s embrace. I so appreciate your thoughtful remarks – thank you so much. xoxo

  3. I read your beautiful essay at the end of 8 long hours waiting at the Chicago Airport after missing a connection home. Your words calmed my heart; I felt as if I, too, had entered your quiet place and was restored by it, even in the midst of a busy terminal. Lovely and healing. Thank you.

    • Oh no, Katrina, you can’t mean it! An 8-hour delay? I shudder to think of it. I’m so sorry this happened – you must be exhausted. I’m grateful to know my small woodland realm provided you a momentary respite during your long delay at O’Hare. xoxo

  4. What a beautiful childhood you had, Amy. Reading this, I felt I was right there with you, resting my chin on the wooden sill. I too have always required generous portions of solitude. While I’ve known that this need coexisted with my–also shared–impressionability, I don’t think I’ve ever made a direct connection between the two. You’ve given me something new and insightful to meditate on. Thank you. xox

    • Jessica, I definitely recognize a correlation between sensitivity and a need for solitude. If, for example, I have had a busy day, the thousand things my sensitive nature notices demand that I set aside quiet time at night to unwind and reflect. This is why I’m a frequent keeper of what I call poet’s hours. I love to settle into the deep silence of my sleeping household and let my thoughts unravel. This is when I scribble in my journal, search for new insight in favorite poems, surround myself in stillness.

      And yes, I had such a happy childhood. How I would have loved sharing my wooden sill with you! xoxo

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