At Standing Stone State Rustic Park near Hilham, Tennessee, they ought to have a sign:
No Internet Access
No Cable Television
No Cell Tower
No Seafood Buffet.
If You Came Here To Keep Up, Turn Around.
The only sign they do have is one that says “No Pets,” a rule, as far as I can tell, that almost everyone ignores. But it is possible that I have mistaken the strays that populate the place for family pets. People call in every Sunday to book a cabin one year hence; the place seems always full, though the term is relative, as the park has only 15 or so cabins. The camp has electricity, and some cabins have even been air-conditioned in recent years. There’s a swimming pool if you’re not too fussy, an ancient tennis court with grass growing in the cracks and a sandy arena for the annual Roly-Hole marble tournament. Mostly, people walk and sit amidst the greenery, wondering at how time gets away.
Despite the amenities, Standing Stone is an Amish sort of place, slowing to an amble somewhere after the turn of the 20th century. It’s a good place to get away to. And there’s a lot that bears getting away from.
I heard, for example, that elective breast-augmentation surgery was the hottest graduation gift during the latest high school season. Did I get this right? I imagine the Hallmark card with the predictable congratulatory line: “Best Wishes on Your Accomplishment.” And inside the card, a gift card for Plastic Surgery Palace, a swipe card to be redeemed if not to redeem.
I like getting away from ESPN and FOX. Do you have a restaurant in your town that doesn’t feature television sets stuck in every corner? Can we really not afford an hour away from Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson? When the politicians deliver their stump speeches, isn’t there a chance that we’ve heard it before? And will hear it again?
I like getting away from strip malls and chain restaurants. Have you ever been in an Applebee’s in Dayton or somewhere and, for a moment, been befuddled about whether you might be in Buffalo or Peoria? So many storefronts with so many deals have for me become soul depressants. I need to get away from the unceasing chatter. Las Vegas is not the only place that is always open. Everywhere, America seems to be yearning for the Las Vegas tinsel.
Emerson says that he returned “to wisdom and common sense” in the woods. I guess I should learn to camp, but I can’t afford the campermobile with the satellite dish and the motorized walls. So I come to Standing Stone and sit still for a while.
I know it is un-American, this instinct to do nothing. Have you ever been found sitting alone, just thinking, when an interruption created that quick flush of embarrassment at being exposed? There’s not much worse than being caught thinking. No money ever got made that way.
It is obvious, I suppose, that we don’t live in times that stimulate the soul. Even the church doesn’t have much to say on that count anymore. In the building of buildings and programs, religious empires and massive ministries, things of the soul are left to occasional retreats where the days are tightly programmed and the voices of busyness go mad.
So here’s news. It is okay to stop. Excuse yourself for a while from noisy opining and channel surfing and vibrating phones and the latest computer wizardry. Just stop. Find yourself a standing stone and sit in the shadow of it for a time.
In a tiny town square near Standing Stone, you can still find a few whittlers. They all bring cedar sticks to the quiet party and spend an entire day turning fragrant sticks into smaller sticks. Red-cedar shavings curl up around their legs as they focus their knives. Sometimes they even talk. It is not about the carving, of course; it is about one of the few things that Walmart cannot sell us.
Dale Brown wrote pieces for Perspectives under the pseudonym Thomas B. Phulery (and later, as a guest blogger on The Twelve, as T. Jefferson Underhill). This piece is from the March 2005 Perspectives.