I arrived at my destination in the Green Mountains of Vermont around midnight. The car thermometer showed the outside temperature to be 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The ground was covered with snow and more snow was falling lightly.
I unpacked my things and installed them in the cottage where I was to be staying on a mountainside overlooking a river, which filled the air with the sound of rushing water. Snowflakes caressed my nose and cheeks like tiny crystals as I carried my things into the cabin.
There was no artificial light in sight but the landscape was clearly visible in the moonlight. Although it was snowing and there was a light cloud cover, the light of the full moon overhead was so bright it penetrated the clouds and lit up the whole area in pale blue light. Even through the cloud cover, the moonlight was bright enough to cast shadows. It gave the landscape a dreamlike, otherworldly quality.
I went into the cabin, loaded in my gear and built a fire in the wood stove. I resisted the impulse to turn on TV, recorded music or even the ubiquitous Internet. I felt like I needed a break from electronic media. It had been a tough year. The mass media had been overflowing with negativity throughout a long, rancorous election season. For a year the news had drawn me in and kept me glued with an overhanging sense of incipient threat. Now the election was over. It still felt like danger lurked. But there was nothing I could do about it. I was overdosed on media.
Finally the holiday season had arrived and I felt I could take a well-deserved break from the constant assault of bad news. I felt like a victim of media burn.
I sat by the fire, hearing only its crackling and an occasional pop, with the rushing sound of the river forming an aural backdrop. The window on the front of the wood stove was my screen. It presented a reassuring, constantly flickering image. On that screen, no bad news would intrude.
I unwound gradually from the long drive and eventually drifted off to sleep. In the morning I woke to see eight inches of new snow that had fallen during the night. It was a fresh layer on top of a foot or so that was already there. My car was buried under a mound of fresh snow, with a little bald patch underneath.
The morning sky was crystal clear. The sun reflecting on the new blanket of snow was blinding. I felt no urge to turn on TV or radio or even to check the Internet. The spectacle of nature was sufficient.
Without any electronic sound playing I could hear the natural sounds that are usually hidden from me behind a screen of media sounds. I tuned in and started to realize that nature was presenting its own ongoing show. It was not silent and it was not still. It kept changing moment by moment.
The weather forecasts give you a general picture of what the weather will be like in a broad area over the next day or so. But what I was experiencing in the mountains was more complex. There are micro-systems of weather that pass through briefly and then are gone again, never to be detected or reported on by distant meteorologists.
The morning snow had been pristine, but the bright sun was already changing it, causing some snow in the branches of the trees to melt and fall. Occasionally a little squall would rise and blow snow off the trees, darkening the sky with blowing snow, as if it was snowing again. Then after a few minutes, the system would pass.
Already since the sun had appeared, the landscape was changing. The perfect powder was melting a bit, changing in density, starting to drop off the branches, exposing the dark brown tree limbs underneath. The white layer over everything was starting to become speckled.
Occasionally the air would be penetrated by a pop or a crash of snow or a broken branch falling on the tin roof. Various sounds broke through my awareness, some of which I could not identify the source of. It might be the movement of the planes of the house itself, shifting as one part or another expands or contracts in changing temperatures when hit by sunlight. And other mysterious sounds would pass through, never to be identified or explained.
Not being tuned into the media felt strange. It was like a withdrawal from an acute addiction. The news media in particular can keep you locked in, afraid of what will happen next, one bad news story on top of another endlessly – “Now this!” After a while it dulls the mind and the senses. It’s great for the networks’ ratings and ad revenues. Not so great for the soul.
What a great relief to remove that layer of noise and tune into nature once again! It was very healing.
There are tours and resorts now that advertise themselves as being an opportunity to unplug, to get off the grid and break that media addiction. For years the first thing I asked when I checked into a hotel was about their Internet service, considering it an urgent necessity. But now I am so hooked, it has become an attraction merely to be off the grid. For many of us the addiction is so strong we hardly have the mental fortitude to break it voluntarily anymore. We have to go completely off the grid to do it.
I found the presence of nature soothing. The natural rhythms of the days and nights, the changes in weather, the ongoing flow of the river were all reassuring. Here were larger rhythms and cycles that had gone on for centuries and would most likely continue for centuries, unperturbed by all the news that so disturbed my peace.
Soon I would be immersed in it all again, no doubt. But after a short break from it, hopefully I would be refreshed, ready to fight another battle in the mainstream of human life.
But for now, for just a little while, I found peace in nature. It is so good for the soul!