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The Mill Pond

A couple of weeks ago during my son’s spring break, he and I traveled to Surry County. We spent time with my Aunt Jeanie (my dad’s sister), visited the church that my family has been a  part of for four generations, poked through a country store museum that my Dad played a big part of, and ended the day walking to the Mill Pond.

The Mill Pond, in my family, is a specific place, a 16 acre pond in the middle of hundreds of acres of pine forest once owned by my favorite grandfather. It is not the kind of place that resonates with everyone. It is for some, too empty. Too alone. Too quite.

Sixteen acres of water. Black water, made black by hundreds of years of pine and cypress needles falling and rotting in the water. The water comes in from two small creeks, and oozes in from springs, and then at one end, runs out over a dam built in the fifties.

You really can’t see that dam, however. Beavers live on this pond. They have a large home, a five minute paddle from where you enter the pond. For generations, they have maintained a dam that raised the water a few feet from it’s natural height.

My grandfather waved a war with the beavers for much of his life. Somewhere along the way he managed to find dynamite, and from time to time he take a stick or two and blow the beavers work to kingdom come. my grandmother would be horrified. And when we heard the boom, we all knew what was going on. My grandmother would be horrified. But the dam would be gone. And by the next day? The beavers would be back, beginning again. Neither side ever won that war as long as he lived.

It’s been twenty years or so since my grandfather died and the beavers are in control now. Wild ducks and geese live here, as do some of the biggest and happiest bass a fisherman could want.

It is quiet at the mill pond. One of those few places you can go and for long stretches of time, hear nothing. From time to time ducks will fly off the water, or a fish will jump in the air and back into the depths, but mostly, it is silent.

That is its appeal to me. The silence. I love the beauty and the wildlife, but the silence has resonated with me since I was a struggling teenager. It was where I went when I needed to work through all the things raging in my head.

My grandfather understood the value of that silence. There were many a time we walked back to the pond at the end of a day to fish. The walk, about a mile, and the time we spent there was often spent in silence. Hours of it sometime, till duck fell.

It was a comfortable silence.

Few of us are comfortable in silence anymore. Our world is a place of noise and conversation and doing. Action and activity. Introspection, for most, is a lost art. Or worse, it is something we are afraid of. Afraid perhaps, that it will force us to see things we don’t want to see or admit.

And at times, that is just what happens in my times of silence. At other times though, it lets me see my blessings. As the world’s cacophony falls the wayside, I can see better the deep joys in my life.

Because in the end, that is what silence does. It strips away everything else and all we are left with is ourselves, and our God. There is no pretense. There are no roles to fulfill. Stay in silence long enough, and the true self emerges, complete with its amazingness, its fears and flaws, its beautiful messiness.

In the silence, we separate what we say about ourselves from what others say. We can no longer blame others for what we believe. For there are no others. Only us.

And that is freeing. It’s magical. It is truth. Good or bad, It is truth. And truth is the starting point to the next place in our journey. More important than merely being truth, it is OUR truth. Not anyone elses. Not the world’s view and opinion. It is ours.

For some, that is frightening. They don’t know how to separate their own truths from the truth of others. They depend on others, from their past, or from their now to make them feel secure in who and what they are. That is where they find their indentity. I’ve lived there. I understand how it happens.

But silence. Not a few minutes of it, but hours of it, removes the places we can hide.

And the Mill Pond was, and is, my favorite silent place. It is where I went as a teenager to find myself. And it is a place I have gone to again and again to regroup when I felt like I have strayed. It’s a magical place. A holy place. As holy as any church or Cathedral could hope to be.

It is not the same thing to others. I know that. Not all my family, and not all the few friends see it in the same light. And that’s fine. But I am simply grateful that for much of my life, I’ve had such a place, full of memory.

My son and I poked around. We visited the cabin my father and grandfather built the year before I was born. We watched the wild geese flutter across the black water. Looked for beaver.  Checked out millstones. I shared some of the history of the area.

And then we left and walked back to civilization.

But the pilgrimage was still with me. And still is.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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