Over the past three weeks I have been putting in many hours, particularly those bookending dawns and dusks, perched in various trees. As an archer trying to bag a deer, I’ve tried my best to become one with the tree.   Mostly these arboreal ambushes have been a series of silent retreats. Even though I haven’t had a shot yet, I have relished banking heavy doses of quietude. 

I break the creed of quiet when I hiss at a nearby red squirrel that is scolding my presence. Or I might blow a series of deep grunts as I halfheartedly try to challenge any bucks that might be within hearing distance. Ideally a buck would amble towards me to see what amorous intruder might be in his thicket. Mostly I maintain a silent vigil.

My mind wanders to arenas where I rarely venture. Lately I have wondered about the interplay of a swirling breeze and a lingering withered leaf gripping its summer berth on a naked twig. The wind will ultimately reign victorious in pulling the dry shard from its parent tree. But why are the neighboring parched leaves not shuddering? For the moment they are still. But if they follow the seasonal script of death and decay, their destiny will eventually be the same as the shivering leaf. Is the solo leaf shuddering only because of the physics of the passing air? Or is it the architecture of a wrinkled leaf? Or both? Or none of those factors. 

This is only one of the things I ponder while a baseball-shaped conk pokes into my lower back. The fungal jab provides the necessary discomfort to stave away any urge to doze. It’s imperative that I cannot get too comfortable or I won’t be able to pay keen attention . 

The pressure to add venison to our winter larder was lessened a couple of weeks ago when Miss Nancy arrowed a big doe. She had already filled much of the freezer with her summer gardening efforts. After butchering we canned seven quarts of venison and the rest we wrapped and stowed in the freezer  

Tranquility partners with me when I sit inside the log walls of the small cabin I built. Not only do the red pine logs block out noise but there are no operational clicks, buzzes or hums of electric appliances that effectively hijack silence inside the conventional home. 

I relish silence and yet rarely experience blanketing quietude. We live awash in noises that range from barely imperceptible to intolerable. We can’t avoid it. As our species has become more urbanized and “cyber-connected,” silence is a rare commodity. The constant thrum of daily living becomes more normal. 

When Miss Nancy and I spent extended periods of time in the Yukon Territory at our beloved Outpost, we came to meet a precocial three-year-old boy named Juneau. Juneau and his parents were neighbors of sorts. They lived 16 miles further down the gravel road. Their house, a stone’s throw from the Wheaton River and in the winter shadow of Anderson Mountain (no relation), was more of a cabin. It was small, totally off-grid and far from the rush of traffic and city noises. 

Juneau’s mother Rose was born and raised in New York City. After returning from his first ever odyssey to her hometown, he told us about his visit to what he called “the Big Noisy.” He preferred talking about how good red squirrel stew was as a favorite supper.

Tomorrow I fly to Tacoma to spend some time with my daughter, her husband and two grandkids. Silence, during waking hours, will be a rarity. Amidst the banter of make-believe, potions, and oh-so-much-dancing and singing, the space will be punctuated with squeals, owl calls,caterwauling, howls and expected bouts of overtired wails. At such moments I will display the amazing ability for humans to adapt and I will cherish the familial noise while simultaneously reaching into my vault of stillness for the necessary balance. 

Because I need both.