Born Baffled

“Our job is to hear people into speech.”

Nelle Morton pulled those words from her spiritual, activist heart.  She was the daughter of “a strong Appalachian Amazon” schoolteacher mother who readily provided Nelle with the means to grow insightful.

Her quote made me ask:  Have I listened deeply enough to hear someone into speech?  I’ve questioned people into expressing themselves.  But listened them into speech?

How did Nelle pull such insight out of her fomenting wisdom?  Is she a kindred spirit?  Did she also have to think through lots of bafflement?

Did both our moms teach us to pull insights out of sheer bewilderment?  I’ve had times of feeling simple.  Nothing makes sense.  Like the time a retired Anglican Bishop, Barry Valentine, said in a sermon: “I want to be the kind of listener who listens so deeply I risk allowing you to change my mind.” 

Am I capable of becoming that willing?  Isn’t life about defending one’s thought, space or desire?   Wouldn’t willingness to deeply listen short-circuit the brain?  Baffling thought.



I’ve been baffled about many things in life and continue to find a good chew on confusion. Even yesterday, on a great hike to the top of a mountain, a conundrum came to mind.  It was about bicycles.

My Walk Buddy and I were climbing up a trail that offered very little zig-zagging; mostly an ‘up and over’ route meant for sure-footed deer.  Spring rains and hardy ‘extreme’ cyclists had deemed the route mucky, full of ruts and slippery.

The cyclists had to have been pounding down that trail – encountering logs, rocks and roots.  They’d have been flying though the air, landing on one wheel and just missing trees that deny a straight pathway.  The speed and rough terrain would bounce eyeballs out of focus.


Imagine this being d-o-w-n…steeply down…while on a bike.

So, I thought:  why don’t we see any signs of side-swiped trees, mashed bushes, broken bikes, bent wheels, flying parts or wounded hikers?  I’m baffled by my 21-speed, off-road bicycle’s manual.  It contains dire facts, cautionary instructions and must-do maintenance tips – so convincing, I’d be carrying it carefully down this trail.

Do other people even think about this stuff?

Coming up the last steep stretch before the mountain top, we heard voices.  Our plan to sit and meditate in the sunshine with eagles, billowing clouds and endless views was thwarted.  Instead we followed the safety fence and studied the views: to our left, the San Juan islands in the USA.  Below us a bay once used for log sorting and now home to anchored house boats.  To our right, Vancouver Island.  The low tide emphasized the spot where cougar and bear often swim to our island when the distance, like now, is shortened.

Look above the tree in the forefront and see where Sansum Narrows is truly narrow.  That's where wildlife swim across to visit us.  We take them back home to protect our sheep.

Look above the tree in the forefront and see where Sansum Narrows is truly narrow. That’s where wildlife swim across to visit us.

What makes those gorgeous creatures decide it would be worth a swim to feed on a small island?  What strong pull encourages them to get in the water and swim as though they were sea creatures?

Since Queen Elizabeth prefers Salt Spring Lamb and since we have a host of talented weavers ever needing more fleece, we protect our woolie beasties with determination.

Farmers’ dogs are often the first to alert us that a hungry visitor has arrived.  The animal rescue officer is called to tranquilize the wandering creature and return it to Vancouver Island.

One morning a high school student was taking her usual shortcut to school on a trail through the bush.  She bent down to re-tie her shoe and, before rising, noticed a hairy bear’s paw very near her foot.  She smelled its breath. Fortunately, she frightened it.  It took off through the bush and she ran the rest of the way to school – in the opposite direction.  It definitely was not the teaching staff’s scheme for getting students to school on time.

That incident was enough to curtail hikes through trails until we were safe again.  I grew up respecting wild animals in their natural homes.  They didn’t frighten me.  Animal behaviour, unpredictable when hungry and away from home, baffles me.

Speaking of low tides, back to the mountain top.  We are looking down at a low tide in this photo.

The Bay where men used to roll the logs, build booms and outrun the tides.

The Bay where men used to roll the logs, build booms and outrun the tides.

I said to Walk Buddy, “Did you ever think about tides?”

Her face fell into an expression of dread.  “What do you mean?”  I believe she wanted to kick herself for asking.

“Well, look at that low tide.  When we look at the shore on the neighbouring island – in the exact opposite direction – why don’t we see a high tide?”

“It’s because of the moon!  The moon determines the tides…”

“Oh I know it’s the moon!  But think about it.  Whether we’re on the East or West side of our island, it’s low tide.  Does that mean that all that water goes somewhere to a ‘middle’?  If we went to the middle of the Pacific ocean, would we find a spot where the depth changes with the tides when the moon is doing its thing?  How can all that water be pulled UP instead of being pulled from side to side?”

I realized I had only transferred my bafflement.  Since we were without Google at that moment, it was time to change the subject.  “Well, never mind.  It’s kinda like the mystery about “sea level”.  I used to ask all kinds of people who determined sea level.  Who decided one particular location could be used?  Was it at low tide or high?  Until Google, no one could point me to an answer.”

"Do you live here?  Which island is that?  Is that little village called...  Where's a good place to eat?"

“Do you live here? Which island is that? Is that little village called… Where’s a good place to eat?”

Suddenly the voices were coming straight for us.  My Walk Buddy greeted the strangers with delight (and relief) as they came closer.  A family from Edmonton had good, straight-forward questions that didn’t need a Google search to answer.

Born curious and therefore frequently baffled, it’s been both a blessing and a curse.  My mother was my internet in my juvenile years.  Now, if the Internet didn’t exist, I may have become one who camps in obscure corners of libraries.  I’d be blowing dust off volumes of encyclopedia or sifting through old magazines, losing track of time and not caring.

Google spoils me.  I don’t have to be baffled for long any more.  Trouble is, I’ve replaced listening skills with Net-searching skills.

I interrupted my Walk Buddy.  I’ll have to ask if she had the answer about tides.  Her expression spoke her feelings, but I may also be losing the ability to read body language.

Neither Nelle nor the good Bishop would give me points for progress.  I didn’t practice hearing her into speech or listen deeply enough to see if my bafflement was merely silly curiosity.

14 thoughts on “Born Baffled

  1. Your title drew me in as I was born baffled too. LOL. I have found, in my advanced age, that the more I listen, the more my kids talk. Pretty cool. I LOVE this post about your hike, and the glorious photos. Such beautiful landscape……….have a wonderful holiday weekend, kiddo.

    • Happy Easter to you, as well, Sherry. Your kids must feel terrific. It really is amazing how some folks can be so surprised to find someone truly listening. I have a friend who listens so well, I pause frequently to see if she needs to say something! I can tell by her questions that she’s been with me all along.

      Yes, I appreciate Nature being all around me.

    • For sure, Barb. One need never feel shy while immersed in Nature – or become centered on silliness like “do I have spinach between my teeth?”. We can just sit and listen with the heart wide open.

  2. I am forever trying to hone my listening skills. I spend too much time processing what people are saying, pondering the validity rather than just hearing them speak. You describe a fabulous hike. I’ve been to all the places you mention, but never seen them from your vantage point. How cool. Your puzzlement over the mad-men cyclists made me think of this video I saw that actually made extreme cycling (which I normally consider rather silly and very destructive) into a thing of utter beauty.

    • Thanks for the video link, Linda – I’ve shared it already since I have a couple of friends who seek out these sorts of trails. My walk buddy has just retired and with the extra time to walk now, we’re going to start needing some good hikes off-island. A fellow I’ve hiked with has been working on getting an up-to-date trail map together which will help the on-island discoveries. I had fun with him one 8 mile hike when we waded through salal looking for old markers and flags while he GPSed our course – for this map. The only part that wasn’t fun was ending up in a ravine full of dead fall. Besides being tricky to get over the mess without breaking a leg, the climb back UP and out of there was a huge challenge. Thank goodness for deer trails.

      We just may have a hike together one day. Did you enjoy “Wild”?

      • Oh dear. I may be the only woman to say this, but I hated Wild. Didn’t see the movie, but read the book when she was giving away free Kindle downloads to stir up the frenzy when it was first released. I could not relate to her in any way. I felt she was damned lucky to survive an adventure for which she failed to do due diligence. It is people like her that undertake “adventure” to heal something broken inside themselves and then end up costing rescuers time, money, and often their own lives when trouble happens. I see it in out-of-bound skiers, I see it in mountain climbers and wilderness seekers, and I don’t condone it. A person with half a brain knows enough to break in hiking boots and build up stamina with short hikes around home. Same goes for packing your house on your back. It’s an art that must be learned through trial and error. Sorry. You got me on my soap box. 😮

        Your adventure in the salal sounds fun and strenuous. (A perfect example of what Cheryl Strayed should have been doing before she set off for the PCT)

        • You are not the only woman to share these points about Wild. The movie is the epitome of how not to do it…especially when she sets out in June and still runs into a snow storm. Red Flag! It was hard believe someone would set out so ill prepared.

          Actually, I was hoping for tons of great scenery in the film – which didn’t happen for me. Another hiker and I watched it together and we kept saying, “Crazy!” We couldn’t even say it was a good thing there were places along the trail where people were – that didn’t always prove to be safe/helpful, either.

          We certainly can find ourselves without putting ourselves such risky scenarios. To each his own?

    • You’re not kidding, Kim…it’s becoming more rare all the time. I confess that I fast-forward videos and movies now whereas before this conditioning of instant everything, I patiently listened to every word. Times are a-changin’ and it takes courage to sincerely care about how we receive others – personally and politically.

  3. Hi Amy,

    Reading the post, what jumped out at me was that sentence from Barry Valentine’s: “I want to be the kind of listener who listens so deeply I risk allowing you to change my mind.”

    Sometimes the sheer power of ‘listening authentically and deeply’ can blow one away. Magic happens when the speaker finds himself truly ‘gotten’. The defensive, inauthentic layers shed off, the need to hold onto our rackets dissipates. The way the world occurs for the speaker shifts.And the way we judge something also changes.

    Just the other day I had this awesome experience of a very irate business associate coming in and saying he would prefer never to deal with us. A spot of authentic listening without interrupting or putting my own point of view was all that was required for him to leave proclaiming he would always be there for us.

    Great post and musing Amy!


    • Shakti, your comment cinches a common understanding and desire to live with a quality so very worth every effort. The rewards are endless – as you well know. Thanks for being you.

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