30 January 2006

Winter Stillness

One of my greatest sources of creativity is spending time in nature. Often it is necessary to recharge my batteries and look at life without rushing and hurrying. I find that when all the problems, confusion and frustrations of my life are crashing down around me, I can rediscover my calm and balance by spending time in a suburban park, or better yet, hiking in the woods.

My husband and I have found a nature preserve that's about a forty minute drive south from the bustling commercial and sailing hub that is Annapolis, in the farmland and wilds along the Patuxent River. It's called Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and, as the name implies, it is an oasis in the dessert of East Coast congestion, noise and pollution.

We have had unusually mild weather for January and we could not resist the opportunity to be out among the marshlands in search of the elusive critters who inhabit and shape this 1400-acre paradise. We always hope to spot one of the beavers who have constructed some amazing dams in a small run (creek) flowing into Otter Point. But only their handiwork is visible. Nor have we ever been fortunate to spot one of the Point's namesakes, but then the park opens long after sunrise and closes before twilight so the chances for the average visitor to spot river otters are slim. I have spoken with volunteers who conduct scientific research at the park and who assure me that there are otters who live near Otter Point! Someday I'll find the time to volunteer there when I can be present at the edges of the daytime and perhaps spot one of these animal wonders. (Otters are my favorite creatures!)

So we did not see any furry critters about, but in the long silence of a winter afternoon we sat at the bank of the beaver-constructed lake and listened. And listened. And listened some more to the stillness of winter. We heard a woodpecker tapping on the trees in search of meal and saw one of his compatriots guarding a treetop promontory in the lake. Proud little birds, woodpeckers. I am always wondering how it doesn't hurt for them to bang on trees with their beaks. We could feel the light breezes blowing the high tide currents toward the lake and hear the little waterfalls from the beaverdam trickling in the background.

It's fascinating to me how many natural sounds are present when you take away the layers of traffic, machinery, and noises of the modern world. Just listening and breathing in the woods at the edge of the marsh on a 60-degree day is one of my ideas of perfect bliss. Although we spent about three hours hiking around the sanctuary that sunny afternoon, my favorite moments were sitting side-by-side with my husband surrounded by the stillness of life going on around us.

We humans have so altered the planet we dwell upon, but the true beauty often lies in the untouched places.

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