Frequently, when one thinks about the outdoors, the focus is activity. In my case fishing and hunting gathering food, trapping, and biking. Things that insist on a certain type of attention, but living as an outdoor person includes more than that.
“Listening Points” is the title of the great Sigrid Olson’s 1958 book. Somehow I stumbled onto it at the public library in Austin, Minnesota when I was in eighth grade. It discusses those special places that one goes to when it is time to reflect and seek refuge from the world, to carve out some peace and some silence. A place we return to because it means something to us. It is a place to center ourselves, and after that, resume the daily life in which we hope to engage.
I was amazed to realize that what I was reading about I already understood. I lived on the last street in town. Across the road fields stretched for 160 acres and ended in a wood. All that land was owned by my grandmother, so it was essentially mine. I could wander as I pleased.
These days, there’s a lot of talk about feral kids. I led the feral life as a youngster, especially in the summer. I left the house early and wandered the fields and forests all day. Somehow I joined up with other kids and we formed a little herd, building forts or playing catch. We frequently didn’t go home until sundown, long summer days made perfect by our existence in nature.
Olson knew what people have known for centuries, that nature has the power to heal and that just being in it made him better.
Healing is part of what listening points provide us. The chance for quiet and the opportunity to recharge and understand the world. I had several listening points even as a kid. They were beautiful stretches overlooking a creek and far enough from houses I could forget houses existed. Listening points have been part of my life since then.
Science is based on observation over time and listening points allow the observer to note changes in the world from a single vantage point. These observations help chart the way the seasons pass or the way the light evolves and focuses sight.
One can learn from these changes and realize that change is also part of our internal landscape. Change is what the world does, and it can be a model for us all. Change is elemental and foundational sometimes we forget that.
Sometimes that change is very serious. Another great writer Stephen Bodio, wrote a book called “Querencia” for me it was the grown up version of listening points. Querencia is that place in the bull fighting ring where the matador makes his last stand.
It has come to mean a place that feels safe, a home, a refuge. As an adult querencia seems more suited to our time. In a time of disease and uncertainty we need places to return to because they are a refuge. Outdoors can be that place.
As an older person, I have several such places. Some I go to daily. What do I do there? I sit. I look around. I observe things. They way the light dances off big bluestem and side oats. The way cattails wave in even the slightest breeze. The way a butterfly defines air. The way croaky creatures hold forth in marsh grass. I consider, at some point, how far I have come, and hopefully how far I have yet to go.
When I leave I know something. Something about quiet, and change, and a shared sense of well-being. Try it sometime yourself and feel the force of solitude that leads to knowledge.