Silence by Head-Lamp

There’s something special about going cross-country skiing at night.   Leaving your warm, comfortable house, getting away from the TV, putting on your skis, turning your headlamp, and going trekking off into the cold dark woods.

It’s almost a little frightening,  going off into the bush by yourself at night (What the hell am I doing?)   But it’s also kind of exhilarating.

Besides,  I know the trails well enough by now not to get lost.  At the very worst, if something happens,  I might have to spend an uncomfortable night, before another skier discovers me the next morning.   After all, I’m just outside town.  It’s a calculated risk I’m willing to take.

But tonight, I have the whole place to myself.  There’s only one other car at the trailhead.  Only one other fanatic, who shares my stupidity passion for the outdoors.   I probably won’t even see them.

As I forge on through the forest, the only sounds are the swishing of my skis, and the chunk!  chunk! chunk! of my pole plants.  My whole universe is the 50-foot beam of light in front of me.

The trees appear ahead, glide by silstently, and disappear into the darkness.  It’s a steady rhythm, as I gobble up distance, and go deeper and deeper into the woods.

Chunk!  Chunk!  Chunk! The further I go, the further the day’s stress gets behind me.    All the bullshit,  project deadlines, office politics,  household chores..it all falls away from me.

The forest is quiet this time of year.   It’s so different.     Everything is dead and sleeping.  No bugs.  No birds.  No frogs.  No yammering, chattering squirrels.

But I’m not alone.   The carpet of snow is littered with critter tracks.   Foxes.  Deer.  Maybe the odd wolf, even.

Suddenly my reverie is interupted.  There’s a flash of brown ahead, and it momentarily scares the Be-Jesus out of me.   Then I realize it’s just a rabbit.

Wabbit twacks,  I tell myself.  Haw-haw-haw.

I now reach my favorite point in the trail.   The section by the river, the furthest away from the trailhead.   The opposite shore has nothing.  No houses, roads, towns, nothing, for 30 kilometers in either direction.

Around me are century-old white pine that the loggers somehow missed, mast-straight, towering majestically overhead like quiet sentinels.  I turn my headlamp off, and just listen.

I remember the game my Mom taught us a game when we were kids.  She’d tell us to be quiet, and ask us how many different sounds could we identify.

Right now,  two.    The occasional (barely audible) hum of cars on the highway, a few miles away.    And the tree next to me is cracking.

But in-between, for long intervals, there is silence.   No wind.   No movement.  Nothing.

It’s so quiet, it’s deafening.  My ears are almost ringing.

It’s The Silence.

And I empty my mind, and let The Silence enter my head, into every pore of my body, into the depths of my very soul.

This is what I came for.   To hear The Silence.

Forget inspirational quotes, self-help videos, or webinars.   Forget Life Coaching,  Zen habits,  religion, church, whatever…

This is what it’s all about for me…getting in touch with nature, and listening to The  Silence.

Some people get this.  Some don’t.

I pity those who don’t.

I stand there for a few minutes, soaking it in.     Because that’s all you really need, actually.

Satisfied, I turn on my lamp, and head back.

Chunk!  Chunk!  Chunk!

30 minutes later, I’m back at the trailhead, drenched in sweat, hungry and tired.

But at least my batteries have been re-charged.   For at least the next few days.

Back to reality, back to streetlights, electricity,  heated homes, Twitter, and  TV.

Sigh. Till next time.

Meanwhile, I wonder who Simon will yell at tonight on American Idol?

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27 Comments on “Silence by Head-Lamp”

  1. Deb Says:

    Thanks Friar. I forgot how much I miss The Silence. The only time I can find it down here is if I ride far enough out into the desert where the Great Nothing stretches for miles in any direction.

  2. Friar Says:

    @Deb

    I’ve been to the desert a lot. There are some pretty awesome silent areas out there!

    Even more so, than up here. I hope you take advantage of them when you can.

  3. Brett Legree Says:

    Admit it Friar, you were just feeling antisocial.

    It is your patriotic duty to stay plugged in to Twitter at all times ;)

    I used to go out and do this, but I kept hearing the manitou following me…

  4. Friar Says:

    @Brett

    I don’t think it was the Manitou.

    Coulda been the Carcajou.

    Or the Garpak. :-)

  5. Eyeteaguy Says:

    Sounds like you forgot your iPod.

    Silly Wabbit.

    Eyeteaguy

  6. Seestor Says:

    When I did a 5 day ski tour in the Canadian Rockies a few winters ago the thing that impacted me the most was The Silence. I’ve climbed and hiked and backpacked in mountains in the summer. They’re so noisy in the summer, with waterfalls and roaring rivers from glacial meltwater. Day and night, the roar persists. In the winter … zzzzzzipppp …. it’s all sealed up in ice. The Silence, ear-ringing silence, in a vast vast setting, is earily soothing.

    I get it. I love it.

  7. Friar Says:

    @Seestor

    I don’t mind noise…so long as it’s natural (wind, trees) and not-man-made (i.e. motorboats and such).

    But the winter silence is especially quiet. The only other place you get that is the high desert.

  8. steph Says:

    “But in-between, for long intervals, there is silence. No wind. No movement. Nothing.

    It’s so quiet, it’s deafening. My ears are almost ringing.

    It’s The Silence.

    And I empty my mind, and let The Silence enter my head, into every pore of my body, into the depths of my very soul.

    This is what I came for. To hear The Silence.”

    THIS, my dear Friar, is why I love you. You speak my mind so perfectly.

  9. XUP Says:

    What about coyotes? I understand there are millions of coyotes swarming the forests, dales and countrysides pouncing on skiers and snowmobilers, cats and young children and eating them. You need to be armed at all times when outside of the downtown core so you can blast all those dangerous wild animals to smithereens and collect your prize. (Other than that it was a really nice story. I often miss the silence and the darkness of being away from the city)

  10. davinahaisell Says:

    “It’s so quiet, it’s deafening. My ears are almost ringing.” I *crave* this silence Friar. There is nothing like it. It’s almost like the wilderness is listening too… to what I wonder?

    As you know, I went on a hike with a group a few weeks ago and all they did was walk and talk. There was a hyperness in the air; heads were staring down as they walked, or at each other as they talked. It was hurried. I eventually slipped to the end of the line to be “anti-social”. Despite all that, by the end of the hike which was about 4 hours I was so revved up I could have done it all over again… without the group.

  11. Friar Says:

    @Steph

    Shhh…don’t say it too loudly. You’ll upset some of my other readers (like Eyeteaguy!) ;-)

    But yes..you DO get it. I know you like the outdoors as much as I do.

    @XUP
    In the almost 5 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen wolves and bears and foxes. But not one single coyote.

    They’re not as prevalent here, as they are down your end, towards the Big City.

    Maybe the varmints prefer the suburbs and shopping malls.

    @Davina

    Argh. That would drive me nuts too.

    That’s why I prefer to hike alone, or with selected people I know I’m compatible with. Those group hikes can be great…but they can also ruin the whole outdoor experience…it depends who you’re with.

  12. steph Says:

    Ooh, was I getting too loud with all that talk of silence? Or does Eyeteaguy hate love-ins?
    :)

  13. Friar Says:

    #Steph

    It’s the love-ins that get him going.

    But it’s prety quiet here today, so I don’t think there’s any danger of that happening. :-)

  14. Eyeteaguy Says:

    Well you like silence so much, I was giving you some.

    Eyequietguy

  15. Friar Says:

    @Eyeteaguy

    Aww..you’ve been TOO quiet. Is everything okay?

  16. XUP Says:

    I don’t think we have all that many coyotes here either. It’s just the city folk freaking out when they see one roaming around on land that used to be his until a couple of years ago when the suburban humans moved in and flattened the woods and now he has no place to go and nothing to eat. Also gives some people an excuse to go out and kill stuff

  17. Eyeteaguy Says:

    The last person you have to worry about is me.

    Didn’t you read my blog? Only worry when I do, only panic when I do.

    When I worked at the widget factory they said if you see a guy in a hazard suit running like hell, follow him.

    Eyeteaguy

  18. Friar Says:

    @XUP
    Oh, I know…the stories you read in the paper, you’d think packs of the wild varmints were eating babies or something. People are just so clueless.

    We have bears here right in town (one shat in my backyard just last summer). We’re kinda used to it…it’s part of living right next to the bush.

    @Eyeteaguy

    What? You have a blog? Since when?

  19. steph Says:

    Friar! HAHAHA! Even I knew Eyeteaguy has a blog!! Sheesh.

    Or, wait – were you kidding?

  20. Friar Says:

    @Steph

    Yeah…he blogs.

    Here…I’ll endorse his site. (That’ll be $25, EyeYouOweMeGuy).

    http://eyeteaguy.wordpress.com/

  21. lalalives Says:

    I met this silence in Puerto Rico’s rainforest and fell deeply in love.

  22. Friar Says:

    @lalalives

    I’ve never been to a tropical rainforest. It’s suprising to hear it’s that quiet…I would have thought all the wildlife would be making noise.

  23. lalalives Says:

    In the distance, you hear birds, Coqui frogs and, now and again, a stream or two, but louder than all of these is a powerful silence. It’s very hard to explain, but the silence really does overpower all else. It’s almost like a presence all its own. You literally feel it.

  24. Friar's Mom Says:

    @Wee Friar,

    Yesterday, I experienced the Silence with my ski friend. While she took a photo of snow-covered trees backlit by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I heard the Silence. I mentioned the Silence to her, and both of us stood there, listened to it, and heard our pulse in our ears.

    Amazing, we were at the top of a ski mountain around the bend from the noisy ski lift, but the noise was buffeted by a bank of tall fir trees.

  25. Friar Says:

    @lalalives

    I know…The Silence is pretty powerful, isnt’ it?

    I’m not a religious man, but it’s as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve ever gotten.

    @Friar’s Mom

    It’s amazing how quiet it is up on the mountains. I remember at Banff, years ago, you taught me about “dead air”. Where you hide behind a rock, sheltered from the wind, up in the apline zone, and you can hear a pin drop.

  26. Friar's Mom Says:

    @Wee Friar,

    It’s rewarding to know that many things I taught you in your childhood still stay with you. Now why haven’t you learned that vegetables and lima beans are good for you?

  27. Friar Says:

    @Friar’s Mom

    Listening to The Silence up on a moutain top isn’t yucky.

    Eating Lima Beans IS.


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