Light filled the dark night deep in the northern Minnesota countryside, the moon brightening the landscape and the stars as twinkly as they could be.
Lying on my back, a feeble breeze grazing my forehead just enough to keep the bugs and sweat at bay, my mind wandered here and there and nowhere at all. It was a night in the early stages of summer back at a time when I had more energy than direction, and I was consumed with worry about where I was going and how I would get there.
So there I was, lying on my back outside in a quiet place I found to help sort through the random thoughts that skittered across my mind.
I dreaded summer back then because school work was far easier than farm work. My greatest dream was to turn 16 and emancipate myself from my parents’ pseudo-indentured servitude to earn minimum wage sacking groceries and lining shelves. That would be the life, or so I fantasized.
On this summer night after a stifling, dirty day baling hay, I had just enough energy to lie outside and wonder how I would engineer my great escape. Would I be beckoned by an Ivy League school unable to continue without my noble presence? Would my baseball skills catch the eye of a professional scout and whisk me to faraway Paducah or Toledo or Cape Cod to launch a minor league career? Or would I simply tire of farm work one day and leave on a dusty gravel road in my trusty red Javelin with floorboards somehow rusted clear through, providing natural ventilation for my feet?
There has always been something energizing about mindless thought in those quiet places that helps generate brainpower inaccessible in helter-skelter, everyday situations. Places like those highlighted in this month’s cover story help stoke our ability to seem greater than we are, even if only to ourselves and only for a little while, making the empty solitude of a perfect quiet place something to cherish and protect.
There are plenty of places near all of us that are quiet, and yet not all of them are truly quiet places, with the defining difference mostly a matter of opinion. A place can be quiet and yet unfulfilling for me, uncomfortable or unwelcoming through no fault of its own, while offering you a perfect space for quiet reflection. In a city with growing density and dwindling green space, that is an especially good thing, because if all of us found only the same few quiet places acceptable for reflection, those places soon would be overrun and not special for anyone anymore.
I’m fortunate that my quiet place is portable, existing primarily in some part of my brain that seems resistant to erasure or reformatting, offering a throwback to the days when dreams were my pilot instead of my taskmaster, when moonlight alone was enough to light the way through the dark, and when I had plenty of time to simply wonder away the night.