When I tell people how much I enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, and even cabin-time, alone, it earns me some strange looks. Most folks think of these pursuits as opportunities to share memory-making with family and friends. Truth is I do, too, particularly certain camp activities. I enjoy cooking, and Lord knows I love to eat, but camp cooking is at its best when there’s someone else to tell you, “Ahhhhhh. That was good!” … and then do the dishes. And frankly, when I begin admitting to storytelling to myself, then it’s time to take away my truck keys either until the whiskey wears off … or permanently!
But the greatest allure to soloing in wilderness endeavors is the complete control over one of the most lacking conditions in our modern world—silence! Only when you are by yourself and make the decision to turn off the phone, all the computer gadgets, the radio, and not even light the crackling campfire—just yet, anyway—can you experience the glory of real silence.
The most silent place I can think of is out at the cabin in the Black Hills by myself. I’m lying on my bunk alone in the dark. It’s 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and I’ve roused from good, sleeping-bag sleep. The gas heater has kicked off, and there’s only the tiny pilot light burning blue in the far corner. Outside, there’s not a breath of wind, and snow is lightly falling in giant, feathery flakes adding to the 6 or 10 inches that fell since mid-afternoon. The temp is falling and by the dark before the dawn in will be around zero.
We built the cabin for silence. The walls are thickly insulated as is the roof. We even placed bats of fiberglass between the joists on which the floor is laid. The cabin wears a metal roof, but we put a 3/4-inch OSB on top of the rafters plus three layers of felt on top of it before securing the sheet metal. It still transmits the hypnotizing serenade of rain on a tin roof, but in falling snow, it’s absolute silence.
We also picked the location for the cabin to maximize the quiet. The original siting plan was to put the cabin high on a ridge with a grand view up the next drainage to the southeast. I even hauled a big chunk of the building materials up the mountain before I sat on the site a couple of otherwise quiet evenings and realized I could easily hear the traffic on the interstate a few miles north. And the sound of wind up on the ridge was nearly constant.
So I hauled all the lumber and cinder blocks and beams back down into what we call the Hollow. It’s sort of a heavily timbered, box canyon with high ridges on three sides filtering out sound from the freeway, town and the nearest neighbors. We’re a mile and a half down a two-track trail behind two locked gates, so it’s nice and quiet in the Hollow nearly all of the time. Yet when the wind blows, we can still enjoy its whisper through the Ponderosa Pines—it’s just quieter.
With this set up, we are pretty much in control of the noise and the silence. And even when I’m there with my wife or guests, most of the time we elect to opt for the silence.
When I’m on a solo hunting trip, I really get into the silence. There have been solo deer hunts when I haven’t turned on the radio or even said a word to anyone for three or four days. Certainly, no phone. Then I’ll be waiting out a deer as the dawn just begins to brighten. The big boy I’ve been after shows up. As I look at the buck through the scope and flip off the safety, the thought crosses my mind, “Do I really want to shoot and break this awesome silence?” So far, I’ve not put the safety back on, but someday it may happen. I really do love the silence.
I used to think this was because in daily life I don’t get enough silence. So many people seem to be afraid of it now. How else do you explain people going everywhere with ear buds inserted listening to … music, I guess? Silence and stillness are the best conditions in which to think and contemplate, and maybe that’s what scares people—their own thoughts. Heaven help us if they find contemplation boring. Nothing makes time pass faster for me than thinking and imagining.
But, more recently, I’ve come to think I love the silence because it seems that in the silence is when God talks to me.
Think about it.
Over the course of my 50 years and counting, God has given me some pretty durned clear directions (whether I liked them or not), but not once have I heard a physical voice. No burning bushes and booming voices of the “Ten Commandments.” For me anyway, God’s direction comes in silence. God speaks to me in silence.
A new revelation for mankind? I think not. More likely I’m just catching on to why monastic orders of many religions and beliefs require daily periods of silent contemplation if not outright extended vows of silence. This has been going on for thousands of years.
The Bible is also replete with support of the virtues of silence:
Proverbs 10:8 – The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
Lamentations 3:26 – It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Isaiah 26:3 – You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
And one particularly speaks to me … in silence. This one could almost be the wilderness camper’s creed:
1 Kings 19:11-12 – And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.