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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

Words of Wisdom from Don's Guru

Nan Turner Waldron at the desk of the Fo'castle, a.k.a. Henry Beston's Outermost House. (Butterfly & Wheel Publishing / Henry Beston Society Archives)

As I've mentioned on several occasions, I've always considered the late Nan Turner Waldron, author of the book, Journey to Outermost House, to be one of my great mentors when it came to The Outermost House and life on the outer beach of Cape Cod. As the 95th anniversary of her birth approaches later this month, I often wonder what this sage of the sea and sand, who passed away in November 2000, would think about the state of the world today. Her words from the closing paragraphs of Journey to Outermost House, which was based on her experiences at Beston's Fo'castle from 1961 to 1977, are more relevant now than ever:

Henry Beston wished for the Fo’castle (The Outermost House) to be a refuge and an observation station … Refuge: a retreat, seclusion for contemplation away from the pressures of ordinary life, a sanctuary. When he gave the gift he merely set the stage. He could not give the experience, that had to be sought.

There is a shrine in Japan, Shinto Spirit Home of Yoshida, which I have read shines with white light. There is no altar, no image of worship, just a space in which to feel. Not entirely unlike the Fo’castle. A quiet place for what Viktor Frankl called "creative loneliness,’" where anyone may learn the skill of seeing with the inner eye. This special dimension of the human brain takes time to cultivate. It is a gradual process which can begin by letting the quietness seep through the skin like a fog drifting unexpectedly over the land to encompass the setting. In the quietness is found the language for a conversation between man and earth. Eiseley wrote of a miraculous experience he once had when his spirit moved timelessly into the fog. Every person whose writing I have read, or with whom I have spoken who has truly felt the earth, has spoken of this connection — softly, I might add, no data base of facts and measurements backs them up. Despite our glittering urban sprawl, man and earth are one.

Often I have been irked by the reluctance of conservationists to suggest that humans need something other than pure air and water to survive, something deeply personal which the natural world can help each of us regain — a sense of humility before the living earth and a sense of awe for the creative potential in man. Our high-powered society has made us vaguely embarrassed by any discussion of humility, instead of proud to recognize it. Terms such as insight and spirit, which may seem to smack of the occult, are simply not brought into a serious conversation concerning the value of open land and wild places. And yet there is a nurturing power in any natural environment, and a healing touch, which the soul of man sorely needs. Every one of us needs to feel beyond self: to feel small measured against distant horizons; to feel powerless against the winds; to feel voiceless against the thunder of the storm.

And we need to be awed by the starry heavens inspired by the flight of birds and warmed by the sense of belonging.

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