A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a child, and I liked it even more when I reread it as an adult. Central to the tale are three mysterious women
called Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These visitors from beyond time and space disguise themselves, rather poorly, as frumpy old ladies, materializing at crucial moments in the plot. How did Madeleine L’Engle (1918- 2007), a mother, choir director, and general store clerk, come up with these outlandish ladies? By letting her mind rest and her imagination spin in the quiet of nature.
Before she made her name as a writer, L’Engle lived in a 200-year-old farmhouse called Crosswicks in Connecticut. In the midst of her busy life raising children and running a general store, she found a secluded spot in the countryside, a ten-minute walk from her house, and made it her own. “My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings,” she wrote (1972). “The brook wanders through a tunnel of foliage, and the birds sing more sweetly there than anywhere else; or perhaps it is just that when I am at the brook I have time to be aware of them, and I move slowly into a kind of peace that is marvelous.”
In a noisy world, visiting a soothing, quiet place means that “things slowly come back into perspective … and my sense of humor returns,” as L’Engle found. The quiet of green spaces is restorative to both mind and body.
MRI scans show that the areas of the brain most active when our minds are relaxed and free to wander are the same areas that “light up” when we are engaged in creative work. Michael Rich of Children’s Hospital in Boston, says, “If our minds are always busy, we may be missing out on creative thinking,” noting that Albert Einstein didn’t devise his theory of relativity in a lab, but on his walks home from work.
Madeleine L’Engle was nurtured by her Circle of Quiet but actually found the inspiration for her wildly creative novel, A Wrinkle in Time, on a camping trip out west. She reported that she was among “deserts and buttes and leafless mountains, wholly new and alien to me. And suddenly into my mind came the names, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which,” the sages who help the main character Meg travel by way of a wrinkle in time to try to rescue her father.