From deep in the quiet wood comes intrinsic maturation?

The coronavirus is again rampaging through Ontario, there appears to be no end to my isolation and living in a bubble of two, which is disappointing and makes me feel bowed down in heart*.

“Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence.”*

“Deep in the Quiet Wood”* is one of my ten favourite poems and I’ve heeded its advice ever since my first reading. Whenever life becomes too hectic for my liking, or when the social and news media babel overwhelms, the quiet wood is the place where I recoup my emotional centre and my true north. Deep in the quiet wood, my soul bathed in silence, stress evaporates and a gentle calm takes over. 

For those of you who don’t do woods and forests, the relief it brings is a bit like being jangled awake in the middle of the night shattering an oh-so-sweet dream but then being able to gather together the threads of that dream whilst drifting back to sleep.

Recently I spent a day alone, hiking in the Northumberland forest, atop the Oak Ridges Moraine at Boyles Corner, in part of the area known as the Rice Lake Plains.

There are quite a few species that are either threatened or of special concern – amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects – that all strive to survive on the plains. They’re listed below. I keep a notebook of my sightings and, over the course of many visits, I’ve seen all but the ghost tiger beetle. My success is a product of persistence, patience, stillness and silence.  

“Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale.”*

An entire day basking in the palpitating solitude; simply sitting, watching, shooting and writing – absorbing everything on offer. And listening! Hearing those elusive strains as they bubbled up in rippling notes all around me which, of course was mostly the rustling of the leaves and the wondrous scale of the avian choir in the tree canopy high above me. Honestly, I didn’t want the day to end. It was absolute bliss just being, for that sweet interlude, alive, alert and at peace.

The next day during a conversation with my oncologist and hematologist, he asked about my happiness and mental health; he was curious because he is the one who mandated my quarantine. I told him I was doing very well, thank you, and I happily described my day in the woods. Happily, that is, ’til I heard his response: “Your introversion has really increased during the pandemic.”

There are lots of terms I might use to describe myself, and have, but never introvert. To be honest, being one of only five frosh (only the very slightest of exaggerations, I promise) at UofT in 1975 who did not take Psych 101, I had to look up introversion. It doesn’t mean I’m shy. It doesn’t mean I’m socially anxious. It also doesn’t mean I’m a recluse despite my isolated and hermetic lifestyle these past seven months. The broad strokes are that introverts are strengthened and sustained by the hours they spend voluntarily sequestered and that, I concede, describes me to a tee: My serenity and composure are definitely tied to my time alone in the natural world – deep in the quiet wood. 

Most of us live somewhere in the middle of the spectrum that breaches ultimate extroversion with ultimate introversion – very few of us are either “capital E” extroverts or “capital I” introverts. But can our place on the spectrum change? Can we become more introverted as we age? Indeed yes, as it happens. The clinical term is “intrinsic maturation” which, it seems, simply means a gentle relaxation of our personalities as we get older, during that chapter of our lives when we feel less pressure to conform to societal expectations and perceived norms. It may well be that the coronavirus was the catalyst for my deepening introversion. Regardless, it seems that during the past seven months, somewhere deep in the quiet woods, I have intrinsically matured.

It is disconcerting to be told, especially at my age, that I have the introversion personality trait when, all along, I’d thought of myself as being more extroverted. It is also surprising to realize the veracity of such a casual, throw-away comment.  But the truth is inescapable.  It catches up to you every time, often when it is least expected.  

My truth is that the quiet, almost eremitic hours I spend in the forest, are sacred and essential – how I am able to find peace in this time of high anxiety. These sojourns change me and how I view my world, filling earth for me with heavenly peace. My truth is that such times are the product of intrinsic maturation.  Introversion.   

A friend recently asked me what, if anything, the pandemic had taught me about myself. I had no answer then. Now? I’d have a response that would surprise her as much as me.

‘Til next time, y’all…

*James Weldon Johnson

Deep in the Quiet Wood 

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

[J.W. Johnson]

Rice Lake Plains’ species that are threatened/of special concern:

Amphibians & Reptiles

Eastern hog-nosed snake (threatened)
Midland painted turtle (special concern)
Snapping turtle (special concern)
Spring peeper (chorus frog/tree frog)

Birds

Barn swallow (threatened)
Bobolink (threatened)
Common nighthawk (special concern)
Eastern meadowlark (threatened)
Eastern whip-poor-will (threatened)
Eastern wood-pewee (special concern)
Grasshopper sparrow (special concern)
Red-headed woodpecker (special concern)
Wood thrush (special concern)

Insects

Ghost tiger beetle (imperiled) – This one I’ve yet to find.
Mottled duskywing (endangered)
Monarch (special concern)

6 thoughts on “From deep in the quiet wood comes intrinsic maturation?

  1. Christie Hawkes says:

    So beautifully written, Pamela. I also turn to nature for solace and grounding. This piece spoke to my heart. Thank you.

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