In the Rockland Journal News recently there was an article about the use of leaf blowers and how some communities are passing ordinances restricting the decibel levels of the blowers, amount of emissions and hours of permitted use. One thing the article mentioned that I hadn’t thought about was the fact that blowers stir up everything on the ground into the air that we breathe – fertilizers, animal wastes, dust. Yes, I know that’s what the wind does too, but perhaps in not the concentrated way that leaf blowers do.
I know the sound can be atrocious, especially when it goes on for hours. Sometimes it seems my neighbors’ smaller leaf blowers (as compared to the larger kinds used by lawn company crews) are more shrill, whiny and irritating than the commercial kinds. Or maybe it’s the fact that the BIG noise of the contractors’ many machines focusing on one yard is usually over in a much smaller amount of time than that of my neighbor’s one, small blower. I don’t know which I would prefer: BIG noise for a short, concentrated time or smaller noise for a lot longer.
Yes, I do know – neither.
Quiet is a rare thing these days. A wonderful activity we do at camp and especially on day hikes and camping trips is called ‘still hunting’, a term first used in the 70’s in a book titled ‘Sharing Nature with Children’ by Joseph Cornell. We come to a beautiful, sometimes dramatic, natural area and I ask each camper to find his/her own special spot, not too close to anyone else, and to get comfortable – leaning against a tree, sitting on a rock, or maybe on the sand on the shores of the Hudson River. And then we sit still, with nothing in our hands, backpacks already put in another spot away from us, no talking, just quiet. Yes, parents, it does work! And what we are ‘hunting’ is silence, sounds, sights, smells, wind, movements, our own thoughts – and maybe the thoughts of a beautiful July day, or the thoughts of the Hudson, or those of a mountain top or deep forest. At the end of our 10-minute still hunting, campers, when asked, usually say they want 3 more minutes or maybe even 5. This is the first time for many to sit still AND quiet in nature, or maybe anywhere. One time a 9-year-old camper shared after still hunting that she felt she was “dissolving”, yet was totally aware of her surroundings.
Three years ago a camper returned home after a day hike with The Nature Place and his mother asked what was the best part of the hike. He said there were so many good things but his favorite was when he did “nothing”. Still hunting – the “nothing” – is an attempt to let ‘no thing’ get in the way of our coming home to ourselves as we connect with what lies beyond us in the natural world.