Dreams are powerful tools that can help guide anyone to success and happiness. They represent some cherished aspiration, an ultimate ideal of achievement.

The word sylvan refers most directly to a setting associated with the woods. Reflecting on the vigorous life that abounds in sylvan settings is a very powerful force in my life. For me, this word evokes feelings of transcendence, clarity, and unity.

A Sylvan Dream is a dynamic compilation of my life dream. It is an attempt to seek out and document the truth, beauty, and clarity that exists in this world.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Familiaris - Indoctrinations of Stillness

I first thought of titling the ensuing series of entries Becoming Familiar, but I often feel many of my titles lack substance and clear embodiment of what I am writing. As I thought about why Becoming Familiar seemed an appropriate title I tried to trace the origin of these words in my mind, before realizing just how simple this connection was.

Familiaris, the latin base for several common english words, most directly translates to 'domestic', or so an online etymology dictionary tells me. Thus, this series of entries details the process of what is now commonly referred to as Developing a Sense of Place, or becoming familiar, familiar with one's domestic surrounding. I hope you enjoy.

When I think back to my first memories leading to my love of birds and nature, they show me nuances of my behavior that were with me even at a very young age. I am slowly finding that while many of these behaviors were challenging to my juvenile success, many of them have ironically become important controlling forces in my life.

Even before I was old enough for kindergarten, it was very important to me that I felt included in the highly choreographed early morning rituals of my family. Most mornings I would awaken to the loud, echoing click of a distant light switch followed by the creaking of our basement stairs as my dad went for his morning shower. After glancing out the window momentarily, I would roll over and fall back asleep as twilight washed my room in blue.

The creaking of my dad coming back up the stairs usually stirred me from sleep enough to realize my bladder was sending me painful messages to get up. I tried to place my bare feet on the edges of the cold wooden stairs as quietly and quickly as possible, sometimes leaning on the railing and the wall in order to skip up to four steps at a time. To get to the bottom unnoticed was always the goal, and I’m not sure why. Whether walking through the woods alone, or sneaking up on my sisters or a friend in a house, there has always been a special delight in arriving unnoticed. Perhaps it is just the act of surprising people with my presence that proves pleasing, who knows.
Many mornings, just as I got to the bottom of the stairs, my mom would emerge from my parents’ room for her shower. Eyes barely open she would mumble, “morning,” and make her way to the shower in the basement. My mom emerging from sleep has always been rather comical to me, I guess because it is so opposite from the way I have almost always woken up ready to go. Rounding the dining room and the kitchen, the distinct smell of clean skin and my father’s shaving cream filled the air as I approached the bathroom. I would peek around the edge of the door in attempts not to interrupt him as he slid a razor up the right side of his neck with practiced concentration. The ease with which the plastic wand-razor sheered the stubble from his face was almost impossible to believe.

After that moment in the morning, my dad’s days were primarily unknown to me. On some warm mornings I would walk outside with him to say goodbye as he left for work, then walk around the yard or driveway for a few minutes, but most chilly mornings I would stand on the couch looking out the back window to watch him get in his blue Nissan truck, and quickly pull out of the driveway.

The majority of my mornings, or the whole days for that matter, remain unknown to me as well, lost in time. However, at some point my parents realized my affinity for watching birds, or at least to be outdoors watching animals in general. One day while my dad was home for lunch he introduced me to the ubiquitous animal trap. Wherever I have been that people are attempting to catch an animal without a real trap, it is the box, stick, string, and bait that make up the trap.

My dad set me up with a large cardboard box propped up on one side by a short stick with a string attached to it, me holding the other end of it. A seemingly enticing pile of birdseed sat beneath box, and I was set to catch a bird. After showing me how to wait til the bird was completely under the box to pull the stick, my dad left me to my own devices. I sat as motionless as a four year old can, peering out from behind the edge of our log-cabin playhouse, just waiting for the unwary robins that littered my yard to see the beautiful pile of birdseed, openly inviting their presence. Little did I realize that the primary birds who would like to eat the birdseed, like chickadees and titmice, would never venture so far from a tree to examine this odd pile of food in the middle of my yard, while all the robins littering my lawn had interest in only worms, not seeds. Nonetheless I sat there with determination and belief that given enough patience and stillness, a bird would enter the box, but then I had no clue what I would do. Eat it? Play with it? Just let it go? Luckily it never got that far.

When I tell this story to friends, I have taken to telling them I sat still for six hours straight, but the more I think about this story, the more I realize I have no absolute bearing on how long I sat there waiting with assuredness that I would catch a bird. Time meant nothing to me back then beyond when I got to eat. In my memory I did nothing else between the times I ate lunch with my mom and dad that day, and when my dad returned from work that night around dinnertime.

What I do know looking back on this memory is that time spent sitting still like in the ensuing years and even today are ephemeral and rare. If only school were based on watching living animals and being outside, rather than staring at an inanimate chalkboard and equally stoic teacher, my childhood would have proved much less challenging, and much more fruitful I believe.

Aside from numerous schoolyard fights, and wayward distractions in the classroom, releasing all of my boyish energy on the weekends and after school was one of the only constructive ways I found stillness on my own accord. In exhausted moments between hours spent in the fields behind my house managing the jaggers encroaching upon my demolished sumac thicket, chasing birds and squirrels through my yard, or throwing leopard frogs in the middle of the bass pond in my neighbor’s field, I found wonders that froze this raging boy into someone completely different. In these moments I was so different; someone I suppose many people never new existed. And how should anyone have known who I really was on my own accord when all I was to most people was a bright boy who couldn’t sit still in class, couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and was constantly throwing things or doing anything other than what was expected in those sterile, lifeless confines called classrooms? In this manner my love for birds and nature quietly grew into my being, and remained relatively unnoticed. I was just being a kid, something I thought we all did. Little did I know this lifestyle was quietly disappearing amongst most other quiet and well-mannered kids in my classes.

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