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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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A quiet moment

Uploaded: May 18, 2015
On our Girl Scout camping trip we enjoyed all the usual fun of a being in the out-of- doors. We bedded down in sleeping bags, warmed up by a bonfire, and roasted hot dogs and s'mores. The girls cinched themselves into harnesses and scaled 30-foot trees and poles to teeter on wires and slatted bridges while taking on the challenges of a high-ropes course. We saw deer in the meadow and the scat of coyote and bobcats on a hike to an old-growth redwood grove with a meandering stream populated with tiny salamanders. But perhaps the most profound and unusual experience for the girls was the two minutes of silence they experienced while on a short solo hike.

My co-leader headed off first on the well-marked wooded trail that wound up out of the valley of redwood trees. After she departed, each girl hit the trail at about 30 second intervals, just enough distance between them so that they could not hear or see the girls in front or behind them. Each girl hiked alone for a few minutes until they rounded the last bend to find the group waiting for them. I was the last to hike out and was surprised to find the group still silent when I arrived. Twelve social twelve-year-olds voluntarily held their chatter for a sustained amount of time!

They were all smiles and eager to share their experience of hiking solo. They spoke of hearing distinctly: a fly buzzing, leaves rustling, their breath panting with exertion from the climb, the crunch of their shoes on the pebbled trail. The talked about being lost in their thoughts, about being a little nervous walking in the woods without another person in sight, about wondering when they would finally find the others, about how the hike seemed to last much longer than two minutes. They marveled at how much seemed to have happened in such a short time because they were paying such close attention to where they were, and what they were thinking and feeling, free of the distractions of conversation or companions, and they want to try it again on the next hike. One of the simplest activities of the weekend was the most memorable!
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Posted by Teddie, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 18, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Thanks Sally for all your efforts with the Girl Scouts... I know it has been really memorable for both my daughters. :)

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Teddie,
It's a privilege, and a close tie who gets more out of it, the girls or me!

Posted by Marc Vincenti, a resident of Gunn High School,
on May 18, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Dear Ms. Torbey,

Thank you for this sweet, calm piece.

My goodness, it's good to hear someone advocating silence in this community.

When I was teaching English at Gunn (1995-2010), there were two kinds of moments that always touched me--one almost silent, the other utterly so.

First, there's nothing like a classroom full of 25 or 30 teenagers, sitting all with their heads bent down, and sending up that slightest dusting of sound: pencils on paper.

Second, sometimes I would read aloud to them a short story. Books and bags away, ready to depart at the bell, some of the kids' heads down sideways on their folded arms. And often, after I'd read the last word (as with Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" or Tobias Wolff's "Coming Attractions," and a spiritual and transported silence would hang in the air until I slowly, slowly brought the book to my lap.

Thank you for writing.

Marc Vincenti

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 18, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Mr. Vincenti,
Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm sure your students will long remember the short stories you read to them. My 12th grade teacher of Major British Writers read to us. His Middle English recitation of the Canterbury Tales was mesmerizing!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on May 19, 2015 at 8:32 am

Lots of memories triggered here. How lucky we were growing up to experience quiet and alone time (with mosquitoes) in nature. Sounds like a great trip, Sally!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 19, 2015 at 8:45 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, LJ, for reading and commenting. Yes, quiet and alone time in nature was not the rarity it is today!

Posted by Hiker, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm

I personally like to hike on my own (with someone knowing where I plan to hike and what time I expect to get back).

When I hike on my own, I enjoy all the sounds from the birds and other animals, I see the beauty of nature, I enjoy the solitude and my thoughts, and even take more notice of other hikers and give them a friendly greeting as we pass. When I hike with even one other person, I get so involved in the conversation that I don't really take any notice of what is around me.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 19, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Hiker,
Thank you for reading and commenting. Hiking alone is such a different experience. I was surprised and pleased our scouts realized that, and seemed to relish it.

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