Last week I talked about getting a flip phone. Today I’m going to talk about the silence that comes from being alone with no voices but your own. I’m including in my definition not just the voices of the people physically around us, but those from the internet too.
I’ve only really experienced this once, the first time I ever backpacked. I was hiking in a forest of rather short and underwhelming trees, putting one foot steadfastly in front of the other, catching glimpses of the lake, and following a flat, uninteresting trail. From time to time I saw fishermen on the lake and sometimes I even got close enough to wave. At other times their voices wafted over the water to me, the meaning lost but the inflections preserved. For twenty-four hours it was just the thin forest, the trail, the lake, a few distant fishermen, and me. I was alone in the midst of that reality.
It was eerie. I was unnerved. The silence was crushing and I honestly became afraid that backpacking wasn’t for me, that I couldn’t handle the isolation, that I would buckle under the weight of the silence and have to head home after only a week on the A.T. Later I felt somewhat reassured after I got to backpack with a group and found it to be a very social environment, but that worry still stayed with me for a long time. During this week, however, I’ve begun to see things differently.
I’ve begun to feel that my thru-hike is about confronting the silence. It’s about learning to step back from everything and everyone and learn to see the meaning and beauty that is not loud like the human world, but instead operates within the silence. The subtleness in the sunset, for example, or the pattern in the bark of a tree, or the meaning in the life of a mourning dove. None of these things are loud or obvious, but they are real on a level it’s still difficult for me to grasp, a level I’m just beginning to recognize. And that’s exactly why I have to spend six months in the wilderness: I have to learn to recognize it. It won’t be easy. It will, in fact, be incredibly difficult. But it’s what I need. I need to face the silence.
I guess this thought scares me because all my dysfunctions are laid so horrifyingly bare in the stillness of silence. I hate having nothing to look at but myself. But I want to learn how, and that’s the latest reason I have for my thru-hike.
I wonder if anyone else has dealt with this, in the context of backpacking or a similarly isolated setting? Anyway, just wanted to share that reflection with you this week.
Until next time,
I know, of course, that there will be plenty of people on the A.T. and I will be far from alone. But during those early days when it’s still February, and perhaps the later ones in the North, I may have some instances of isolation. And anyway, I’ll surely have the odd day of walking on my own, which can be a weighty enough silence on its own.