The Sunlight and the Silence

comments 48
Flash Fiction

A cabin in the woods sounds infinitely better than a shack in the city, which is exactly why I went–to trade in the grime and the grind for the sunlight and the silence. I sold it to myself as two nights and three days. You get these big ideas. You get these big ideas and they carry you along. You move from one to the next like you’re hopping from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing at all. You don’t even know what the big deal would be if you stepped into that inch of water. Just that you’d have to hang your socks on the line or something. Just that you’d lose the game you were playing. Sometimes in the parking lot late at night when all the cars are gone you jump from sleeper to sleeper down one side of the lot, in and out of the lamplight. You wobble, careen, catch an edge– step down and touch the nothing, the pavement.

Nothing happens.

No one’s even watching.

In one scene from the brochure I used to sell myself on the trip, I was meditating placidly in sheets of morning light, stirring a galaxy of dust motes with my breath and my whirling chakras. It seemed like exactly the thing to do for two nights and three days straight, but the first half day dissolved into a three lane river of cars that wouldn’t quit because the Exodus was clearly oversold. We were crowding each other into the turns.

In another scene I was frying fish I caught in the river and chopping vegetables with a towel slung over my shoulder, listening to crickets. You’d be thinking of music, or a glass of wine, but they weren’t in this scene. I was going to the cabin to be with myself–to peel the silence open, the silence that awaited me there.

I saw that I needed gas and my back was starting to put up a fight so I pulled into a fish stand with blinking light strands along its edges that made it look like Christmas in July, and asked for a Number Eight. The rock ballads from the outdoor speakers were getting lost in the darkness. The mosquitoes were at plague levels and I was willing myself to just sit there and eat, to sit there and be happy. To savor it somehow. That’s what I owed myself. Night had fallen and I still had forty miles ahead of me, some of it on gravel, most of it touted to be quite lonesome. Finally.

The tires made a lovely noise on the gravel when I pulled up to the cabin. Outside, the insects were at full tilt like the whole forest was a dive bar full of cosmic karaoke. I found the cabin a little musty– the bedding a little damp– and I savored it. There weren’t any lights in the place and my visions hadn’t included flash lights for some reason– something about rising and falling with the sun– so I found my way to bed by the glow of my phone.

In the morning I found that silence is deafening when it’s all you’ve got, and I focused on entering my vision fully, now that I was here. I tried to sit, but the cabin got hot. In yet another scene I was reading on the front porch with one leg crossed over to the other, as timeless as a person can be, but there was some sort of hornet’s nest underneath the porch that kept me on edge. I got up and crawled around, back and forth, probably studied it for a full hour. Then I went for a walk, and soon I was moving from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing.

Nature is like one of those pictures that changes meaning depending on what you make of it. One moment it’s a beautiful woman. The next a witch with a wart on the tip of her nose. It was all so flimsy. My sense of self was a loneliness like coating stones with plastic wrap and dropping them into the river. Do they get wet? What if I want to get one back? How could I do that? Now what have I done?

I drove into town that afternoon and bought some fish and vegetables and cooked them in cast iron pans on the propane stove inside the cabin. The place got hot as hell but somehow I’d shaken off the grime and the grind. Or maybe not that, but something else entirely. It just sneaks up on you. One breath I was telling myself to sink in to it. The next breath I was empty. The cooking would have been easier if I’d thought to bring pot holders, but I wouldn’t have had so much fun. I wouldn’t have started laughing so hard at myself. A little more than was merited, honestly.

I got up the next morning– the second one, marking the third day– before the sun, because I couldn’t sleep. I dozed and woke in fits all night. I got up to look at the stars and couldn’t figure out what time it was, so I went back and laid down. Then I woke up and it was just a little lighter than before, but still dark. I decided to follow the trail that wound down to the stream. There was a little pond there and a nice place to sit beneath some trees.

I didn’t even see her at first. We both just kind of surprised one another. Her head swung up, dipped and swung up again. She took a skitterish step or two backwards, turned sideways and stopped, looking back at me over her withers. Her haunches shivered like they were ready to bolt, but she waited.

What did it was the way her eyes couldn’t find mine because she couldn’t see me on my own. She could only see the whole thing, and sense that it was different. She dipped her head again, testing it. She inhaled a little pinch of the entire picture. She knew the difference, but the difference wasn’t me. The difference was all of it.

Then she leapt into the shadows and was gone. Periodic bursts of crunching leaves faded into the distance. I sat down and I didn’t move for hours. The sun rose. The sky spun. The gnats investigated. But they couldn’t find me, because I had stepped off the edge where there wasn’t any bottom, and I was gone.

48 Comments

    • Thanks, Brad. I was pretty much free-writing on this piece, drawing from past experiences. Thinking about how much is contained in little moments, and how much of our trying passes under the bridge before we stumble into them sometimes… 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Barbara. I’m glad you enjoyed this and thank you for the reblog. This was a slightly different direction than I’ve taken her in the past, and was fun to write.

      Peace
      Michael

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  1. I can so relate! Reminded me when I stayed in the Scottish bothy on the Isle of Eigg. Love that you wrote that nature is one minute a beautiful woman and the next a witch with a wart on her nose. I have to admit, I am the same. I love nature until I encounter the bits that scare me like your hornets.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Teresa,

      Long time no chat! Lovely to see you again. I must confess I have no idea what a bothy or an Eigg is, but it’s a look up by which I’ll soon remedy the situation! Ah! Yes, I’ve written a short story about a bothy without even knowing it! Ha!

      Yes, nature is like this incredible richness in which we can find almost whatever it is we desire to find– cooperation, peace, violence, competition, synergy, betrayal, reconciliation,etc. So much of what we see is the product of what we bring to the seeing…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. *smiling and *happy

    The end about it being all different from the one’s change: yes. Thanks for the reminder. It is a wonderful complement to my quiet time this morning in anticipation of the day ahead. A willingness to surrender – not a conjured up, preconceived, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps change – is the way to make all the spaces different, like your visitor noticed (and you). Thank You, Lord, for making it so! For allowing us to participate in Your work at large!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Amy,

      I’m glad you found this such a complement to your contemplation. You’re onto something important I think, which is that we have to find out way beyond the conjuring and the preconceiving to really touch the essence of it all. It takes a moment of lightning like this sometimes– a thunder clap to break the hold of the mind apart that things might be what they are. Nothing more and nothing less.

      Peace and Love,
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michael This was an extraordinary piece, a complete joy to read. I’m glad I found your blog and am looking forward to reading more. Hope you have a lovely day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ah yes, nature does try to fool us into believing she is beautiful. And she is beautiful, warts and all. This reminds me of moving to the Middle of Nowhere (where I now reside), dreaming of a contemplative life in which I spend my days in the woods or the marsh or the meadows, learning and meditating and just being mindful of all that is. In that fantasy were long and comfortable walks under blue skies, breezes galore to keep me cool, wildlife strolling or flying or fluttering by. My dream failed to include the vampires that swarm (mosquitoes, deer flies, and ticks that carry Lyme disease) and the oppressive heat and humidity of summer, or the large snakes that startle me or block the pathway when I’m trying to return home and there is no other way around, or the feeling of isolation that sometimes sweeps over me being out here on my own most of the time. It also didn’t include all the work involved in cleaning up the trashed house and property, or in maintaining the jungle that is life in the Middle of Nowhere.

    Thank you for the chance to laugh with and at myself as I read your post. We really are funny creatures, we humans. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Robin,

      Thank you for the lovely reflection on the way this piece flows with your own journey. We humans can indeed be funny creatures. I’ve experienced this particular sort of movement in orbit after orbit– the way an image or a concept becomes consuming, and then experience itself finds a way to break it open. What is left is so simple, and yet so profound. It’s what’s left that we can truly share as human beings, that ineffable grace of being…

      I’m sure the first snake encounter was accompanied by a sharp intake of breath! There’s that moment of sheer, unconscious biological terror– when the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you haven’t even seen the snake yet. You’re lost in the whole thing, and then you focus. Once when I was a boy, before a piano lesson, I was waiting outside of my piano teacher’s apartment building and I couldn’t resist the urge to hop down the bank of a culvert into a stream bed– right next to a copper head snake. My vertical leap on the return trip would have probably landed me a job in the NBA, but alas, I’ve not been able to repeat it. Ever.

      (I hope you had a lovely visit with your grandchild, BTW.)

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I feel your discomfort and your joy. I’ve been to wilderness camps that were as ill- equipped as I was myself, and yet I knew enough to not kill myself, and I knew enough to make it work, and laughed at the absurdity and the beauty of it. Lost in the mist rising of the river at dawn, at the herd of grouse scrabbling their way around in the bushes, at the linx strolling at the end of the lake. I loved those wilderness camps that I cooked in every summer for years. I disappeared into nature there, and looking back I believe all those years of living close to the land saved my fractured soul. Beautiful writing Michael. I was completely there with you, although I at least had a flashlight.
    Alison

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Alison. I know what you mean about wilderness camps saving your soul. There is something sublime about the way time away from modernity accrues and we end up in a wholly different “place.” For me the difficulty was always in the return– shifting back from nature’s timeless flow back to the structured mental space of “civilization.” A necessary evil I suppose, but the return trip always took me almost a full week to get back onto level ground. It’s wonderful to share this experience with you!

      Hope all is well–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, I do understand about the return. It has had me in great distress at times. Also the return from travelling before I retired and I had to get back into real-life and make-a-living and be-an-adult mode. Hated it.
        A.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This is very lovely, Michael, and I’ve enjoyed reading the piece twice over. For me, there was a settling point with the line – “The tires made a lovely noise on the gravel when I pulled up to the cabin.” From here, a sense arrived that magical things would be coming your way, whilst perhaps not yet having distanced yourself from the inevitable discomfitures that initially attend the adjustment of the senses to a far purer interiority. But came they did, augured by the fawn(?) with her own sense of the whole, of the ever-changing changelessness, of the sound-caressed silence of being but not being there. Many congratulations on this lovely piece of writing; it’s really quite delicious. H ❤

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Hariod! Yes, it was intended to resolve into the idea of a fawn– doe, a deer, a female deer… I love your sentence about a far purer interiority, and read it several times. Little retreats like this seem to provide tremendous insight into the fabricated nature of one’s daily mental atmosphere, and how the status quo is but one channel on the dial… a rut burned in awareness in many ways. It is remarkable when in a moment we catch a glimpse of the way animals see, or don’t see, the things that we see.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This one completely made me giggle. “the Exodus was clearly oversold”. I was driving into Vermont from NY today into the Green Mountain NP and the road had two lanes in and only one out, and I thought of your line in this piece, laughing: Exodus.
    Your writing range is really amazing, Michael. I love the variety. Beautiful work, fun to read. Warmest wishes,
    Kristina

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. I hope you had a lovely stay in the Green Mountains! I hope the New England heat wave didn’t put a damper on things, though I suspect it would have been mitigated ever so slightly by the forest’s transpiration. It also sounds like you got caught up in the Exodus! Ha! Weekend traffic in New England is insanity during the summer until you get far enough north.

      Thank you for the kind words and glad you enjoyed it.
      Peace and best wishes for happy sleeping beneath the stars–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Michael, there is so much in this to love. The visuals; the towel slung over your shoulder. The sounds: lovely noise on the gravel. I am the cottage right now so this posting was especially magical as there are moments in this that weave into what I am experiencing/thinking/feeling.

    Like you said, and of the many shiny objects that caught my fancy in this post, I went to “my cabin” to be with myself–to peel the silence open, the silence that awaited me there.

    It’s funny how noisy silence is when you first hear it, and as I settle, the silence is a matter of calming the mind and then embracing the call of nature.

    Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is amazing how loud that natural silence is at first, and then once our senses adjust, how deeply we can settle into it. I’ve found great solace in nature, as well as significant challenges, as that quiet gives troubling emotions a sort of endless freedom in which to show up. Working with ourselves in the comfort of the natural world seems a noble and beautiful human practice, and hopefully you’re enjoying the sublime generosity of it all.

      Peace, my friend!
      Michael

      Like

  9. I loved this story, Michael…alot!! You take us on a journey- both physical and spiritual. I have to admit that I was waiting for Hafiz to hand you a flashlight or a pot holder! 😉 I love that you are experimenting with different forms and I think your writing is very powerful…and getting better and better 🙂 And yes-of course I will help you the best that I can with the theatre info…will respond soon ♡

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Lorrie! Ha! Yes– a Hafiz-free post! Thank you for the kind words and for being willing to take a quick peak at my story involving a setting in the theater. Regarding this space here, I was thinking I might try to write some short pieces of fiction from time to time, hopefully working them into even shorter pieces than this one as I go. Something about trying to be concise is a great challenge… 🙂

      Peace and Love
      Michael

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      • I think it’s a great idea, Michael. I can feel an amping up of your creative writing energy and love that you will share it with all your loyal followers here 🙂 I believe they will enjoy it. Have a super wonderful weekend ♡

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    What a beautiful story, Michael, rich on many levels.
    Yeah, Nature is like that. She shows us what we need, and how we interpret that is up to us, as well as how we create what we are shown. I loved all the hornets nests, lack of potholder and flashlight and how we go back and forth being empty, full or irritated, given our mood and creating from where we happen to be inside. Loved the beautiful woman and witch with a wart on her nose analogy. All your metaphors and descriptions are always so brilliant. Not only do you think of these far out things, but your timing is impeccable, as is the amount of detail. I’m always left shaking my head at the wonder of it all. I loved the end with the deer?), and how aware she is to the all of everything.
    Peace and awe,
    Mary

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary. I think you know the mirror nature provides us quite well, and I’m glad you feel I’ve captured a bit of that healing emptiness here. It truly does seem able to work with us wherever we are at, and I think that is one of the miracles of nature– and of the world as a whole really– the way it provides a perfect medium for deepening our understanding of ourselves… It was indeed a deer at the end, having a morning drink, frightened of but curious about our insomniac narrator here… Innocently trying to fathom what was happening before dashing off to the safety of blending in completely…

      Peace and Love
      Michael

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    • Ha! Yes, a happy camper. I love how certain phrases like that get worn out sometimes, and then you find your way back to the original meaning… 🙂 Moving in circles. That’s what we do!

      Peace
      Michael

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  11. I’m stumbling into these woods, if feels like, on a 3rd morning, not sure of my way back or of what exactly I am looking for. I am so glad to find you here, even as you are not even visible to the gnats. I’ve missed the places you are so good at pointing to, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello M!

      Well don’t worry: the certainty of such perfect unknowing is our most reliable compass. And when you reach the spot to which the compass has always pointed, it has nothing to point to and goes a little crazy. Like at the north pole and such. I’ve missed your lovely comments, too, and the thoughts they inspire!

      We are sweltering here on this Sunday. Hope yours is a beauty!
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I find it always takes a few days to leave behind wherever we are coming from. Settling into a new place, getting your life maintenance set up and then finally settling in….slow deep breath. I am here…now…and it is good.

    Liked by 2 people

      • So true, Annette. We can shift into completely different rhythms and responses internally, and then it feels like we’re on the wrong speed or the wrong settings or something when we’re forced to become reacquainted with things once again…

        Peace
        Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Ah, Michael, a wonderful piece! So true to life. I have a love/hate relationship with life upstate in our little barn, mostly love. The silence IS deafening. My husband says it is the sound of your nervous system. I am insomniac when the full moon comes and I fall in love with the stars through the skylight each time we are there. We are sweltering in the heat of New York City. But up in the woods with my husband sick and nature’s potential disaster– hornets, bats (we had 50 in our attic), snakes, yellow jackets, black widows, etc. etc. is no joke. Or snowed in is heavenly until the potential for disaster strikes. Anyhow you said it all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Ellen. Hope all is well and I know what you mean about sweltering these days. I walked out the front door this morning and straight into a sauna. I was watching the birds in the backyard this weekend and thinking about their response to the seasons– this one cardinal in particular. They’re there when it’s zero degrees out, and they’re there when it’s a hundred degrees out. And they’re always so delightfully present with what is…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, JoAnna! Glad you enjoyed it. This was loosely based on my experiences into and out of various retreats with settings in the wilderness… Watching myself go through the internal phase changes at the boundary!

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

    • Thank you, Meg! I see I missed a comment here, too! My apologies. Glad you enjoyed this and came along this brief journey into our deer heart.

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

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