Ways of seeing: We must learn to take time to think
The summer I turned ten, my family bought a rustic cabin on a lake, deep in the woods. It was about 20’ x 20’ with a large wood cook stove, kerosene lamps, an ancient ice chest and no running water. We loved it — a real step up from our usual tent camping. It did get expanded and modernized as the years went by, but even before that, we would spent numerous weekends there, as well as whole weeks during the summer.
Around the time I turned 12, I found my own special place nearby: a small clearing in the woods where a large tree trunk, mostly devoid of bark, covered the ground. It was easily wide enough to lie upon. I would go there in between our usual swimming, rowing, and hiking, stretching out on this sun-warmed log. I would go there to think, and I dubbed it my “thinking tree.” Lying there, I would think big thoughts about the meaning of life in general and the meaning of my life in particular. I don’t remember my conclusions, but I do know that I went there frequently during those pre-teen and young teen years.
I don’t have a thinking tree anymore, but that doesn’t mean I have left the practice of thinking behind. Every day I head for a trail, dogs in tow (actually, running ahead), and spend a chunk of my afternoon wandering through the woods. I don’t listen to music, recorded books, or podcasts as I go. Instead, I think. While hiking, I have written poems and songs, speeches, stories and letters to the editor. I have come up with plans to solve most of the state’s issues, and quite a few of our nation’s needs. I have renovated houses, planted gardens and created paintings. While many of these endeavors have never taken on material form, some actually have.
I understand the allure of music. I find recorded books extremely helpful on long trips. I have been known to sit in my car an extra few minutes to hear the end of a particularly interesting interview or story on the radio. I am not opposed to any of the devices that allow us to listen to these things. There is a place, however, for just listening to our own thoughts or contemplating the thoughts of others: making some sense, creating some solutions, finding some solace or some call to action. Likewise, there is a place for hearing a new bird song, feeling a breeze, whether icy or warm. There is a place for seeing a certain way that light is coloring a tree trunk or figuring out just what sort of event took place where various tracks in the snow converge.
When I wonder at our nation and how we follow such disparate paths, how we willingly believe questionable tales/news, I think. I think that maybe we don’t take much time to think anymore. Too often, we take in what is presented to us on our media of choice and never process it. It has already been processed and packaged for us, like the worst of some overly processed foodstuff. We ingest it without questioning the ingredients. On Facebook “headlines” and Twitter, it is a sort of “fast food.”
Taking time to think is like reading the labels on a can or package, investigating what all those lengthy ingredients actually are and do. It might get you cooking more from scratch. And the great thing about thinking is that it is free. You can do it while you drive a car, mop a floor, take a shower, take a walk, or even while you just lie on a log in the sunshine. It’s not a cure-all, but it just might help us find some good solutions.
Laurie Cox is a retired school counselor and long-time Ripton selectboard member. Besides occasional writing, she sings with Maiden Vermont, pursues art, takes long hikes with her dog(s) and seasonally gardens. She also is about to become more actively involved in things political, environmental, and just.