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The Art of Solitude in Congaree National Park

There is a sadness that exists in loving our natural world. A loneliness stemming from the fierce love of wildlife while witnessing how few rights other species seem to have, and how little society seems to care. Thank goodness they have parks, sanctuaries of diversity where they find refuge.

We live in a surreal state, existing between so many places and meeting so many species. Their simple presence in our lives makes us feel less lonely. So often we seek human comfort when I believe we really need non-human companionship. Wildlife and even sounds of our natural world bring comfort. It’s the sound of wind, of birds, of rain dripping, and so much more. Seeking solitude among these things is a balm for the soul.

Solitude is a silent storm that breaks down all our dead branches;
yet it sends our living roots deeper into the living heart
of the living earth.

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A Way to Practice the Art of Solitude

If you relate to what I’m describing in this post, I’d like to challenge you to a task. I’ve found what helps me is simply writing. I think of all the adjectives in my vocabulary and try to describe the life and vibrancy around me. Feeling community with my non-human companions brings such joy, I wish for all to feel that as well.

Sometimes the first step to feeling less lonely is simply going out alone to listen.

That’s exactly what I did one October day in Congaree National Park. While Andres left early to work in a coffee shop, I stayed behind.

Here’s what happened:

A screech tore through the pre-dawn hour, pulling me briskly from my restless sleep. Rarely do I sleep through the night when so many sounds steal into the delicate abode of our tent. Was it a stray cat screech, or a raccoon?

Moments later a melodic hum bubbled from what felt like inches from my head. I can hear the sound perfectly in my memory, yet can think of no word to describe it. Soft, gentle, and pleasant, like an owl cooing a lullaby for a baby disturbed by the screech. Maybe a night insect, or even a small mammal.

These are a few of the wild sounds lighting up my life. They are paired with other murmurs of our natural world; leaves rustling against each other, and crickets ever present like the art on your living room wall. You become so used to it, sometimes you cease to realize it’s there.

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Balance of Natural Vs. Built Sound

Often present too are the sounds of my human companions, many of which grate the nerves to no end. Distant music playing a little too loudly, cigarette smoke drifting into my campsite, or children screaming in a nearby parking lot.

What strikes me so often is the dance between these two worlds. Cars speed by while crickets murmur on. A water fowl calls out into the night, watchful while most of us wander on by.

An unusually warm fall breeze is a silky caress, carrying me back to the scent of swamp. Something organic and musty, a mingling of soil and the pungent smell of wood decomposing under the sun.

I imagine myself an explorer of days long gone. Paddling beneath old growth forest I am a mix of anxiety and awe. The mosquito repellent shielding my skin would not have existed, and the whir of those insatiable beings would forever bite my resolve. Maybe a bit of mud would keep them away, its cool texture slathered like a spa clay treatment.

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Centennial Poster #18

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These trees are my therapists today, the birds my musicians, and the insects my constant companions. I am a queen in these woods surrounded by so much life. Like a queen, my survival depends on them. What kind of ruler would I be?

Too soon the day ends and I’m back at camp. Congee the stray cat is waiting, hoping for a bite to eat while I kick on the stove and cut carrots.

I realize how rich my day was, filled with such detail.

How could I ever feel lonely with so many sounds, colors, companions, textures, and scents filling my senses?

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Golden silk orb-weaver
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Playing with Congee, an old cat who appeared from the forest.

This is connection with our natural world. A starting point for better ways, for ruling as just kings and queens.

For feeling a little less lonely.

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