Solitude is pretty hard to find here in Iowa, at least the kind of solitude that completely eliminates all human-created sounds and visual clutter. That kind of solitude can be found without much trouble a day’s drive north to the wilds of northern Minnesota or a day’s drive south into the Ozark Mountains. It’s still possible to find at least a bit of solitude for short stretches of time here in Iowa if you know where and when to look for it, though. It’s easiest to find in that hour or two either side of dawn’s early light. It helps to be well away from more heavily traveled major roads and before morning traffic begins to pick up on quieter nearby roads. Forested areas help to soften sounds that may drift in. A nearby stream and some rustling leaves help to cover human racket that might otherwise intrude into those nearly sacred quiet times.
I have always had an aversion to bells, buzzers, horns, sirens and alarms of any kind. They break the smooth flow of time and thought into sharp-edged pieces that are often difficult to fit back together very nicely. Though I certainly enjoy an occasional call from a friend or loved one, I find that many calls are little more than unwelcome interruptions. Telemarketers have a knack for not only interrupting but doing so at particularly unwelcome times, as well.
I read a recent article about the value of daydreaming. I used to get in trouble for that in my school years. Not many teachers seemed to find much value in it then, but a much-loved fifth-grade teacher seemed to understand that time for free thought wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for a boy, even during school hours. It’s nice to see that some researchers are coming to the same conclusion. It’s said that our minds use dreaming time to organize thoughts and information we have gathered. Dreams (both the day and night kind) are turning out to be as important to understanding and problem solving as intense focus on a particular issue. Quiet places and solitude help us achieve that free thinking state.
It helps to be very selective about who you look for those quiet times with, as well. Many folks aren’t comfortable being alone with their thoughts. They avoid that uncomfortable feeling by deliberately adding noise and visual clutter to their lives in the form of constant music through ear buds and constant connectivity with the world all filtered through a lighted screen. I have a few good friends who understand the value of solitude and am lucky enough to be married to a person who also cherishes quiet times. We have bonded over the years by often finding times to “be alone together.”
Perhaps that’s why I enjoy duck and turkey hunting so much, both alone or with a friend. The best hours are usually either side of sunrise when the world is at its quietest. There’s time for the mind to wander even as your senses take in all that’s going on around you. I was awed two weeks ago as I watched Venus and a fingernail moon come up side by side a half hour before sunrise. Even the distant gobbling of several turkeys didn’t distract from the peace and beauty of that moment. It took a tom turkey running onto my decoys to break the spell 20 minutes later. The turkey will be appreciated at several meals, but that celestial display in those moments of stillness will be with me forever.
Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.