“One of the best things you can do in this world is take a nap in the woods. I slept soundly and without moving for half an hour. As often happens at such times, my mind woke up before my body did. My eyes opened right out of sleep, and I was looking up at the gently stirring treetops and the bright sky, with no other thought on my mind, and my body still deeply resting. It was delicious and I did not want to move.”
—Jayber Crow (page 347)
This quote brought me back to an experience I had during the summer of 2000. I was in rural China with a team from college teaching English to Tibetan children. After a long week of teaching and culture shock, my fellow teammate, Jeff, and I went with our western advisor, Owen, to a remote village accessible only by walking or donkey. We arrived in a place so far from industrial cities or any “super power” that, for a moment, I didn’t know what to say. I felt in awe by what we saw: mud walls reaching above our heads, garden foliage poking over the tops, winding passageways patted down only by hoofs, carts, or humans, all this spread between ornately-carved portals and courtyards leading into places for human flourishing.
With this beauty and our cross-cultural exhaustion catching up with us, our Chinese host wisely invited Jeff and I to take a nap. This man showed us a neat room with a pad stuffed tightly with wool and covered by linen, and then opened the room’s sliding doors to the courtyard and garden. We laid down and listened to the garden speak in micro-movements and heavenly sounds of living things in communion and harmony. It reminded me of a real place to be at home and live. I don’t actually remember when I nodded off, but I do recall the feeling of rain in the courtyard. It was a sensation like earthly peace and the spirit of grace anchored in me from a village that we had been led up to and that we would leave in reverence by sleep, by non-human creatures, by hospitality, by rain.
I am grateful that Wendell Berry reminded me of something special from my 21st year, of a summer spent in China’s Tibetan Plateau. I may never return to that plateau again, but a story like this keeps my interest in sleeping outdoors and may in fact put me on the hunt for those special places everywhere I go.