I love solitude.
Quiet walks in the woods. Steady waves hitting the seashore. Bird watching and stargazing.
I absolutely love solitude.
It’s been twenty-two years now since I’ve experienced one quiet moment alone. The closest I’ve come to enjoying nature in solitude was when I polished the silver bowl that my grandfather left me. Someone (I won’t reveal who) had decided to serve olives in it. The acid reacted with the silver and gave new meaning to the definition of “tarnished.” As I scrubbed the bowl with polish, the resulting shine reminded me of a glinting reflection in a clear mountain spring.
Which just goes to show you: if your imagination is strong enough, you don’t need real nature. You will be able to find it anywhere.
When did I realize I was missing solitude? I think it must have been last Chanukah. On the first night, in a moment of random abandon, I told the kids that Mommy and Daddy were putting on a Chanukah skit for the whole family to enjoy. My kids clapped their hands. I thought my husband looked a bit shocked.
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’ll take care of the props.”
“What props?” He looked a bit clueless.
“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll tell you exactly what to say.”
“What else is new?” He couldn’t help answering. (Quite unjustly, I must add.)
“The kids will love whatever we do,” I went on. “Don’t we always love their little Chanukah skits? Do we smile and clap and tell them how cute and clever they are?”
Meanwhile, I had promised props. I scanned our toy shelves. I took a plastic telephone and a colorful assortment of beanie babies. Giraffe, panda, yellow and black striped fish, pelican and mallard duck. No wonder I had these vague, existential feelings that my life was a lot like living in a zoo…
The skit was on: Mommy and Daddy were spending a quiet Chanukah at home. The kids were all married and out of the house. (Rather obvious who wrote this script.) Each beanie baby represented one of our children. They each called or knocked on the door, with an impromptu reason for coming over. Soon the house was filled with the joyous sounds of everyone home for Chanukah.
The kids actually thought this was funny. They loved the happy ending where their dear parents didn’t have to suffer by being all alone.
But when real life got really noisy, which was usually 20 out of 24 hours a day, I would think about following the trail of a pine covered forest, the only noise being the soft sound of squirrels scampering over fallen leaves. My husband also would think about quiet walks in the woods where he could get in touch with the wonders of creation.
About every seven years my husband and I would attempt to take a nice quiet nature walk. Why seven? Because that’s how many years it took to forget why we had resolved to never ever go on a nature walk together again.
The first walk was in the Pocono’s. My husband found the perfect spot for a picnic. I was extremely hesitant when I saw the trees plastered with notices: Beware. Hunting Grounds. Do Not Enter!!
“It’s not the hunting season,” my husband told me, totally unalarmed. He was already starting to relax in nature. I looked at the dates on the sign. He was right. But I still very much wanted to leave immediately. However, being unsure of the way back out of the woods, I was forced to follow.
“Why do I hear shooting if it isn’t the hunting season,” I screamed a few minutes later.
“Well I guess some people just don’t pay attention to signs,” he said.
We had gotten a bit of a late start; instead of leaving right after sunrise like we had planned, it was late afternoon when we finally got going. It was pitch dark when we walked back to the car. Although we had a flashlight, of course we didn’t use it, so as not to wear out the battery.
Suddenly I heard a horrible, wild animal sound. I started screaming and my husband actually turned on the flashlight long enough to show me that there was nothing there. Quite conveniently he hadn’t heard anything. No wonder he wasn’t scared. If I hadn’t heard anything, I wouldn’t be scared either. He said it must have been a horse. I knew it hadn’t been. It was something ferocious and utterly wild.
Seven years later, when all memories of the Pocono’s had mercifully faded, we started off on a beautiful walk in the wadi located below the ancient cemetary in Tsfat’ old city. Following the rocky winding paths, we planned to walk all the way to Meron. Suddenly I heard the most terrifying wild animal sound. It was part honk, part roar and part hysterical scream. Or maybe the scream was from me. Of course the scream was from me. Wild boars don’t scream. And for some incomprehensible reason, my husband was not the least bit hysterical. “Wild boars,” my husband said with great fascination. I didn’t really care what they were called; it was enough they had the word “wild” in their name. They were dark brown, huge and looked mean. And they were coming our way! They crossed over the dry riverbed with ease as if they were cruising along a highway.
Although I’m a big believer in not alarming the children, this was an emergency. Turning my back on the inevitable, I called my daughter on my cell phone and told her to pray for us. I told her we were in great danger. Before I could properly transmit my final expressions of love for her and the inspiring messages to give over to the other children, my husband took the phone and told her that Mommy was a bit upset now, but not to worry; everything was just fine.
The wild boars changed direction. And soon they were gone. My husband actually thought I would continue our nature walk. Had he been struck by amnesia? Had he totally forgotten what my personality was like? Enough quiet nature already.
At our house, Chanukah is a noisy, crowded affair. Oil splattering from the latkes, dreidels spinning underfoot, broken colored candles scattered across the windowsill. For a moment I look out the window and picture my husband and I standing atop a glacier in Northwest Montana, watching the sun sink into the horizon. After all, it’s been six and a half years since we’ve taken a quiet walk in nature together. Suddenly I find myself wondering: would my husband try to strike up a conversation with a grizzly bear?
We struck a deal right there and then: I promised not to go on any more nature walks with him. And he promised not to put olives in my grandfather’s sterling silver bowl, ever again.
Esther Heller is the director of The Jewish Writing Institute www.jewishwriting.com She is fiction editor of Binah Magazine and has written for many Jewish publications. She lives with her family in Tsfat.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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