On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of advice, inspiration and other tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. In the spirit of an earlier post on a silent hike (and having been forced into near silence by losing my voice over the weekend), this month's offerings are on the subject of silence. It's okay to read them aloud, though.
Silence gives us the impetus for awareness and creativity. Sometimes our minds need to be emptied before our spirits can be filled.
-- Ardath Rodale
Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?
-- Marcel Marceau
Silence is not a thing we make; it is something into which we enter. It is always there . . . All we can make is noise.
-- Mother Maribel of Wantage
Silence is more musical than any song.
-- Christina Rossetti
Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
-- George Eliot
In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation.
-- Sigurd Olson, author and environmentalist
Try to pay more attention to the silence than to the sounds . . . Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence . . . It is an intrinsic but unmanifested part of every sound, every musical note, every song, and every word.
-- Eckhart Tolle, author and spiritual teacher
Not merely an absence of noise, Real Silence begins when a reasonable being withdraws from the noise in order to find peace and order in his inner sanctuary.
-- Peter Minard, Benedictine monk
There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story.
-- Linda Hogan, poet, author and environmentalist
Silence is our deepest nature, our home, our common ground, our peace. Silence reveals. Silence heals.
-- Gunilla Norris, poet and author
Gladden in silence.
As one progresses on the path, one seeks silence more and more.
It will be a great comfort, a tremendous source of solace and peace.
Once you find deep solitude and calm, there will be a great gladness in your heart.
Here finally is the place where you need neither defense nor offense -- the place where you can truly be open.
There will be bliss, wonder, the awe of attaining something pure and sacred.
After that, you will feel adoration of silence.
This is the peace that seems to elude so many.
This is the beauty of Tao.
-- Deng Ming-Dao, author and artist, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations
Book lovers in our community felt disappointed—and frankly, guilty—when word went around last winter that Bay Leaf Books was closing. The store, filled with an assortment of carefully selected, meticulously organized, high-quality used books, had graced Newaygo's main street for more than three years, after moving from nearby Sand Lake.
We all loved having a bookstore in town. Maybe we just didn't love it enough. That's where the guilt came in. If only we'd visited more often, bought more books, might that have made a difference?
As the initial shock wore off, our conversations turned from what we should have done to what we still could do. Was it too late to rescue the shop? If not, how could we do it? Most of us were still thinking in terms of buying more books—maybe even pledging to purchase a certain number a month.
John Reeves had a bigger idea: buy the whole, honkin' store.
He paid a visit to owner Gabe Konrad, who told him recent life changes had prompted the decision to close the brick-and-mortar store and concentrate on his mail-order book business. The two men kicked around some numbers, and John left, excited with the idea of recruiting friends to go in together on the store.
"It turned out only one was interested," John says. So John, his wife Marsha and the friend pooled their money, and Flying Bear Books was born.
It took some doing for Flying Bear to achieve liftoff, however.
"In my mind, I was going to buy a bookstore, turn the lights on, open the doors and sell books," John recalls, laughing now at the thought.
"We were thinking, we'll move a little furniture, create a comfortable place where people can hang out," adds Marsha. "As we got into it, it was clear there was more and more that we wanted to do. That's when it struck us that, oh, this is a big project!" The biggest "to-do" was entering all the books into a database, to keep tabs on what kinds of books are selling best.
Previous owner Gabe, who's been selling books through catalogs and specialty shows for more than 20 years, knew the store's inventory inside and out. John and Marsha, on the other hand, were not only getting acquainted with the store's contents, they were brand new to the book business. Unlike "book guy" Gabe, "we're just readers," says Marsha.
John researched software packages, decided on one, and started entering books, with the goal of having 10,000 cataloged by the store's March 1 opening. The process turned out to be so time-consuming, only 2,000 had been entered by then.
While John focused on the inventory, Marsha coordinated painting, cleaning, rearranging and signing up artists to sell their work in the shop. Neither labored alone, though.
"We put out the word that we could use any help we could get, and people showed up weekend after weekend," says Marsha. "It was so heartwarming. I just felt embraced by the community."
Two helpers, Rod Geers and MaryAnn Tazelaar, stayed on to work part time. Other friends have volunteered to pitch in when John and Marsha go on vacation.
The new bookstore owners are committed to maintaining the same high standards that Bay Leaf Books was known for, and the store's organization is the largely the same. "Gabe's thinking was, if he had three books on a topic, he would create a section for it with a shelf card. That was his criterion," says John. "So we don't throw cards away, we keep them even if we might run out of the three books in that area, because I might go to a sale and find three more books on that subject."
The strategy pays off in sales, he adds. For example, "one young lady in her twenties came in looking for books on how to survey land. It turned out we had four books on surveying. She bought three."
The Reeveses did move the military section from the front of the store to the center "to soften the entry," says John. They also hope to increase the indigenous section, with a special sub-section for Anishinaabe literature.
As for other directions, time will tell.
"For me, it's a learn-as-you-go process," says John. "Every day I'm learning something new about books or how they're categorized." Or, he says, popping up and rushing to the front window, "learning to turn over the OPEN sign." The biggest surprise so far: "It's a business, and I have to start thinking of it like a business." He's brainstorming ideas to draw in customers—perhaps a book club or a more informal monthly get-together where people just talk about whatever they're reading. He'd also like to find ways of supporting local authors and working with schools and community groups.
All of which makes it clear this undertaking is not just a business proposition to its new owners.
For Marsha, holistic nurse with an interest in all aspects of healing, changing the store's layout and getting it working in a different way was "a form of healing." And, she adds, "I know that there's healing that goes along with learning, and there are a lot of opportunities for people to learn here."
What's more, owning the bookstore is just plain fun—way more than John and Marsha expected. "Every day, John comes home with a story about something funny or about helping a kid who came in with a cool question," says Marsha. "It's really a delight."
Flying Bear Books is located at 79 State Road in Newaygo. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Phone: 231-414-4056.
Bay Leaf Books still operates as an online bookseller. Visit here.
I confess: Last week got a little not-busy-but-full (see my riff on that linguistic distinction from a few weeks ago), and my writing time got compressed to the point of near disappearance.
I did somehow find time to get out and play with my cameras, though. So instead of inundating you with more words this week, I thought we'd take a break and look at pictures together. Less verbiage, more visuals.
Here are some shots from my springtime rambles. I hope you enjoy them.
WARNING: If you're not a fan of legless things that slither, skip photo #21 (right after the yellow lady slipper orchid)
What are your favorite signs of spring?
Phobic alert: If you don't appreciate certain slithery reptiles, you may want to skip photo #7 below.
One recent Friday afternoon, as the Wander Women hiking club set out on a segment of the North Country Trail, our leader Mary made a suggestion.
"What would you think about doing part of our hike in silence, just listening to the birds and other sounds around us?"
Now, we're a chatty bunch of women—so chatty that one name we considered for our group was the Walkie Talkies. But when Mary clarified that we could converse on the outbound part of the hike and be quiet on the return, we all thought we could manage that.
So we hit the trail and found ourselves talking about—not talking. Gina mentioned a silent meditation retreat she'd attended. Being quiet during meditation wasn't a problem, she said, but it was a real challenge at mealtimes. A zealous foodie, Gina likes to ask questions about what she's being served, especially when the food is as interesting as it was at the retreat. She held her tongue, though, and just let it savor the tastes instead of wagging to analyze them.
As we traveled on, passing by a lake and meandering along a stream, our topics of conversation covered varied terrain as well. We talked about books and movies, summer travel plans, the upcoming Enchanted Forest event, anything and everything that came to mind. When we reached the turn-around point, we paused to take a breather and tie up any loose conversation threads before starting the silent trek back.
Soon, the shuffle of leaves beneath our feet, the gurgle of the creek and the rustle of wind through the pines engaged us as fully as our trail talk had. We did find ways to communicate, though, silently pointing out trail blazes, tree roots to avoid stumbling over and a daring hognose snake that had stretched out across the path.
We did break our silence at one point, when we passed through a campground, and a camper made friendly overtures. But after exchanging pleasantries, we continued on in quietude.
At the end of the hike, we took a few minutes to share our impressions. We'd all heard sounds we might otherwise have missed—from the creaks and groans of a swaying tree to the gravelly call of some unidentified creature near the lakeshore. We speculated about what sort of animal might have made that sound. My guess was a rail—a secretive, ground-dwelling bird that lives in marshy areas. Mary, unfamiliar with that type of bird, thought I said "whale." The look she gave me suggested she thought the silence had unhinged me.
In fact, the silence had made me saner. Our weekly hikes always leave me feeling calmer and steadier, but this one gave me an even greater sense of peace.
There's a reason for that, I learned by looking into the science of silence. Researchers who set out to study the effects of various kinds of music on breathing rate, blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain found that two minutes of silence between musical tracks was more calming than even the most relaxing music. (Read the study here.)
In another study, scientists looking the effects of baby mouse calls and white noise on the brains of adult mice expected to find that the baby sounds spurred development of new brain cells in the adults. As a control, they also exposed some mice to two hours of silence a day. Guess what: the mice that got the silent treatment showed increased growth in the hippocampus, the brain area involved with formation of memories. The mice exposed to sounds, on the other hand, showed only short-term neurological effects, no long-term changes.
I can't say for sure that my memory was any better after our silent walk in the woods. Then again, I can't say it was any worse. Maybe with a few more wordless walks, I'll remember where I left my camera case.
Sunshine smiled on the Enchanted Forest, AKA Camp Newaygo, for at least part of last Saturday, but Sunday's downpours had fairy-folk scrambling to take shelter under toadstools. No worries, though. Quick-thinking Camp Newaygo staffers whisked gnome homes and pixie palaces out of the wet woods and into drier hiding places, where twinkly lights made fairy-house hunting just as enchanting.
The occasion was the two-day Enchanted Forest walk, a fundraiser for the independent not-for-profit camp located on 104 acres along a chain of lakes in the Manistee National Forest region of mid-western Michigan.
Last year's Enchanted Forest event was a great success, and this year's appeal to artists and craftspeople to create and donate fairy houses again yielded a fanciful assortment of tiny abodes—forty-seven in all.
It's always fun to see what imaginative people use to craft these dwellings: tree stumps, gourds, clay, copper wire, twigs, feathers, tin cans. One of this year's creations was made from a cowgirl's boot. Another had a hornet's nest worked into the design.
Ray and I got a close look at many of them when we helped hide the homes in the woods and along the Wetland Trail early Saturday morning. Then, as visitors began arriving and heading out with trail maps, we made the rounds again to watch them discover the little houses.
We had fun watching visitors' reactions to our own creations, too, both the fairy house and the story that went along with it.
"We were so excited to see families outside and enjoying the houses that were hidden on the trails," said Christa Smalligan, the camp's Events and Facilities Director. "Camp Newaygo is a great place for families to enjoy activities together. I heard many kids found some fairies in the woods."
If you missed out on the enchantment—or if you'd like a chance to relive it--here's a look at more of the fairy houses and the weekend's fun. And if you'd like a fairy house for your very own, all the houses pictured here--and more--are available for purchase on ebay through May 8. Proceeds help fund the camp's youth and family programs as well as renovations to facilities such as the Foster Arts and Crafts Lodge.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.