By Jan Blencowe
Do stones speak? Do they listen? I have always been intrigued by Jesus’ words as he enters Jerusalem “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” In the book of Joshua, we read “This stone…. has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.” Stones speaking and listening. Fascinating.
These are metaphors of course, employed to underscore a point. However, metaphors often unearth a truth deeper than what is apprehended on the surface, which is why they are so useful.
Silent time in nature is a necessity for me. Thoughts of stones speaking and listening, and trees chanting psalms and clapping their hands, water the garden of my imagination as I settle into fertile reverie in the woods, sensing that I am indeed surrounded by speaking stones and clapping trees. Nature has been commissioned by her Creator to illuminate and instruct. I sit at her feet and eagerly listen.
I keep a nature journal to record the wonders I see and hear. Each day is an adventure. I don’t go far, usually just into the woods at the back of our property. There is a break in an old stone wall and that for me is a threshold. Stepping through is a ritual of crossing over. One footstep beyond the wall and I fall silent. In the woods, I will look, I will listen, I will touch and smell, but now only the earth will speak. It is amazing what lessons your heart will learn by keeping silent and listening in the woods.
Legend says that St. Francis preached a sermon to the birds, and I have often thought that the birds have returned the favor to humankind. I’ve had a bird preach a sermon or two to me. In our woods I often hear Mourning Doves. It is typically the unmated male who makes the mournful coo-oo followed by two or three louder coos. When I listen to this sad sounding song of the lonely bachelor dove, I am reminded that we are made to live in community and that there is great joy and delight in a soul-mate.
Sitting by a stream, as it bubbles along, fresh and fast, fed by snow melt and spring rains, I listen. My ears hear a music that delights the senses. My heart hears the wisdom of Heraclitus who mused “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I am reminded of the constancy of change in our lives and our call to transformation. Change can be difficult, it can be frightening and can often spark resistance. Yet, in its constant state of change the stream is beautiful and it’s sound is magical. It occurs to me that perhaps it is lovely to look upon and delightful to hear only because its waters flow and the stream itself embraces the wisdom of movement and change.
In our woods there are two very tall beech trees. As skinny, awkward young saplings they suffered the unfortunate circumstance of having sprung up very close to each other. As they grew they stretched and competed for sunlight. Their circumferences enlarged until eventually the two tree trunks touched. As they continued to grow their trunks flattened as they pressed against each other. Now instead of smooth and round their trunks are badly misshapen. With every breeze the two beech trees sway. Their trunks grind and scrap against each other and they emit a sound that can only be described as painful. During storms when the winds are fierce the moans and groans of the two trees can be heard all the way back at the house. From them I have learned a painful lesson. Sometimes we find ourselves in a relationship that is too close. We are pressed to tightly into someone else. We are unable to grow and mature into the rounded fullness we are meant for. We are either dependent or desperately needed in an unhealthy way. Eventually, we become stunted and misshapen, and our souls are in pain and groan. Trees are rooted to the earth. They cannot simply move away from each other to gain the sun, air and space they need to truly thrive. We, however, do have the ability to move away from unhealthy relationships and seek out the space we need for our hearts and souls to flourish.
How loving and wise it is that we should possess the ability to imaginatively listen to nature and learn lessons of the soul. How beautiful and gentle a teacher nature is for us when we cultivate a heart to listen.
Jan Blencowe earned her BFA in 1984 from Caldwell College. She has enjoyed a long career as a successful landscape painter, but her most profound joy is keeping a personal sketchbook of her life experiences. The boldness of an ink line on paper and the use of free flowing water media allow her to engage life’s moments both great and small with gratitude, and presence. Her deepest connection is with the natural world and she makes a regular practice of sketching the ongoing drama of life that unfolds at the beaver pond on her property in Clinton, Connecticut, and throughout New England’s woods and marshes. Her nature journal sketches are featured in several books on sketching outdoors and in interdisciplinary science curriculums.
Her sketching and nature journaling can be found at: Jan Blencowe Sketchbook.