The world is quiet but not silent: the hush of summer slipping slowly into winter, the sky purpling with latent rainclouds lit by the setting sun, the golden leaves untroubled by a wind that will soon bring them drifting to the earth.
Even the geese, which have been crying their farewell to the north for weeks, make no noise. The only sound at all is the soft popping of the sap in the pine logs burning in my campfire as the twilight deepens to night.
It seems fitting somehow that it is in this moment of quiet I rediscover a voice that has been so long silent.
This year has shifted more from mundane to extraordinary than from season to season. Some days found me at peace; others found me sitting at the kitchen table, trying to slow the frantic beating of an anxious heart.
I've sat in silence for months, the language of a nature essayist inadequate for a world shaken by a pandemic, the threat of an impending economic crisis, and the painful echoes of a society in deep unrest.
In truth, my silence began before all that.
Six years ago, I started a series of essays titled Adventures Out There; a very young writer's attempt to understand a broader world through the lens of wilderness. I wrote of science and biology, of the trees and rivers that encircle my home and the wild creatures that live in them, and chiefly, I wrote of morning.
To me, morning has always been more than simply the fleeting hours between night and day: it is a time in which anything is possible, in which the whole of life lies before us, the answer to our hope when the world seems too dark to see.
Yet as 2019 wound to a close, I found the formula of that column too limiting for what I wanted to say. I had outgrown Adventures, although I didn't know that yet.
I took a week off in January, and that week kept growing until the days warmed and the light lengthened, the birds returned and the snow melted, the earth remembered what it is to grow and everything returned.
I dove into summer, swimming in the lake until my skin felt waterlogged, saw nights so star-filled, I thought I might drift off into space.
I read more than I have in years, sitting on the steps to my dock, feeling the sun soak into my skin. I paid closer attention to a world I thought I already knew, yet am constantly surprised by. I planted a garden as I have for more than a decade. Even as I tended a garden in the soil, I grew in my mind, too; hope, fear, perseverance, and gratitude blooming and fading and blooming again.
For the first time in years, my thoughts were my own and I felt no rush to send them to press.
The truth is, we all need time. Time to breathe, to make tea and sip it slowly, to stay in bed after sleeping is over, to read the books that have long sat unopened, to silence the insidious voice in our brains that tells us we should be elsewhere — anywhere but where we are.
It was as if all the scattered pieces of me slowly settled back into my body.
Ironically, in a time when my daily life was more restricted than it has ever been and despite the daily discomfort of uncertainty I've sat in, I've also found more freedom than I ever realized existed.
There were times when the old voice of a nature writer rose up in me singing, humming a familiar song, but I found I was more interested in listening than speaking.
I was seeking to understand the world ... and although I am truly not much closer to understanding the world, I am beginning to see some of its complexity.
With gratitude for all it was, I am gently setting aside the title and format of Adventures Out There. While my thoughts and writing will likely always root from my understanding of the natural world, I wish to use this space to write of things that range beyond the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
As I sit at my fire, notebook filling with these thoughts, the flames die down to ashes.
In the silence, many hours of cold darkness lie between me and morning. Yet I have no doubt that morning will return and I will be here when it does.