Meridian Star

October 11, 2013

Respect for the silent placesĀ 

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —      "But there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its' melancholy and its' charm. There is delight in the hardy life in the open.....  Apart from this, yet mingled with it, is the strong attraction of the silent places..."

    Those words were written on March 15, 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt, a man drawn to the outdoors where he took regular respite from a highly successful military and political life and where he learned and practiced who and what he really was.

    It is natural that he mentions the silence, which those of us who are in our element in the outback always seek and respect and in fact are addicted to. It is one of many reasons we go afield again and again. Quiet, slow moving streams and glassy surfaced lakes in their silence hold promise of the fish we seek, creating the perfect setting for the sudden and violent explosion of the strike. This year, after a hectic summer, I for one am ready for some silent places.

    The silence before and after the deafening call of the big barred owl in our Southern woods is the perfect introduction and follow-up for that exciting sound. The single crack of a stick as we sit in a quiet December vigil deep in the deer woods shocks us to attention as it interrupts that quietness and is followed by a surge of silence around us so overwhelming that we can hear even the small heartbeats between the big ones in our chests.

    Outdoor people soon learn that if they are quiet, they see more of nature’s creatures and in fact become integrated into the environment more as a participant than as an intruder. The wonders we see and hear and feel engender a reverence for the silent places and thus urge us to be quiet when we visit them.

    A quick measure of the outdoor integrity of a hunting or fishing partner is how diligently the partner avoids making noise. This is one of the first things I notice about a companion in the woods or on the streams. Those who whisper instead of talking aloud; those who walk quietly instead of trampling down the underbrush; those who stop and look and listen for long periods; those are the lovers of nature who share my respect; my reverence for it.

    Several years ago, I had a chance to observe this attitude exhibited by a cowboy friend in Wyoming. As we approached the dark timber on our first morning on the mountain together, I was apprehensive.

    Here was a young man, under thirty, who grew up taking antelope at long range on the plains around his ranch home and deer, moose and elk on the wooded slopes nearby. His family ate mostly game meat and he had plenty of game seasons in which to collect it. Would his familiarity with our natural world have engendered the same respect as I for the silent places?

     My question was soon answered as he quietly closed the door of his pickup and gestured silently with a hand motion toward the ridge trail from which we would overlook a timbered bench. His talk during our entire hunt was in whispers. I found a brother who shares my deep appreciation for outdoor things and our kinship to them.

        When I step from the road into the hunting woods, even in the off season, I find myself whispering to a companion or slipping very quietly if I am alone. A pristine forest seems to require a certain deference which I feel compelled to impart. Maybe it is the habit of hunting game which must not be disturbed if I hope to see it. Maybe it is the awe of walking among trees older than I; giant plants growing day and night for generations which one day began life as toothpick size roots escaping from tiny seeds.  Perhaps it is the anticipation of seeing or hearing or feeling something new there in the woods which are never the same as last time.

    Whatever it is that commands this reverence, perhaps all of the above and more, I am grateful for it. It provides a balm which heals and soothes and entices me to return again and again; with a lump in my throat, and being very quiet.