Silence: A Forgotten Friend

“Silence is a source of great strength.” Lao Tzu

“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” Confucius

“Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.” Euripides

Finding silence in the snowy mountains.

Finding silence in the snowy mountains.

Last week I had the pleasure of going on a quick backcountry ski tour—just me and my pup, Moki. It was such a treat.  I hadn’t gone backcountry downhill skiing (or any downhill skiing, for that matter) since well before Opal was born.  I’ve been downhill skiing since I was three, so it’s kind of ingrained in my epigenetic DNA.  I long for it when I haven’t gone in a long time.  I miss it like a long lost friend.  (If you are unfamiliar with backcountry skiing, there is a long winded explanation at the end of this post!)

Moki the lovable obnoxious pup welcomes the increasing sunlight of spring

Moki the lovable obnoxious pup welcomes the increasing sunlight of spring

My family and I went out on a beautiful blue bird day for some sledding, and Moki was being obnoxious (also known as her normal self!).  I took her on a quick lap around the nearby low angle ski area where I felt safe skiing solo.  We set off, and I started breathing heavily very quickly.  I “skinned” (climbing uphill on skis) along, the first and only tracks, happy to be out on a lovely day.  I stopped every once in awhile: first to remove my gloves, then my jacket, then my hat.  Phew! I was getting warm!  As I continued to climb in a t-shirt and leggings I noticed more and more the seemingly deafening volume of my breath.  I paused and said to myself: C’mon! what’s with the heavy shallow breathing?…take some deep breaths and calm the heck down. So I paused and slowed it down, and was suddenly struck.

Struck by silence.

It was beautiful and powerful.  There were no voices, no passing traffic, no children shuffling around, nothing.  It was so striking that I thought to myself, “How long has it been since I experienced total silence?!”  I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m guessing over a year…maybe even since before Ava was born, perhaps longer…I’ve gotten very good at tuning out any non-necessary stimuli.  I think it was this sudden lack of tuning out that took me aback.

Then I was struck again—there are some people who probably never truly experience silence.  I think in some ways, natural silence is a privileged thing to experience.  Many people are born in and die in cities, rarely venturing abroad or into nature due to socioeconomic or other factors.  A city is never silent.  There is constant traffic, constant movement, life and living and the sounds that go with it are never gone.  Even in one’s home the refrigerator is always running, the heater or air conditioner or fans are humming away, the boiler spits and clangs, the floors creak, the kids chatter, the mom sings, the dad snores, the dog whines, the fish gurgles.  It is inescapable.

In the light of this thought, I was immensely grateful.  I reveled in it.  It reminded me of the sparks I felt in my first awakenings in nature.  This is my church, I thought.  This is my solace and reprieve.

I skied on.

When I got as far as I was willing to go before turning around  and skiing downhill, I stopped, took off my skis, sat as comfortably as I could in ski boots and was still.  I closed my eyes, relaxed my body to the best of my ability and basked in the silence of the snowy hill. 

Perfection.

It was the loudest silence I have the memory of experiencing.

Baby footsteps and mommy footsteps looking for nature in the city.

Baby footsteps and mommy footsteps looking for nature in the city.

Eventually the birds nearby started to chirp, and I heard the faint buzz of a snowmobile in the distance.  However, I can still feel that absolute calm that I experienced, albeit briefly.  One of the best parts of this excursion was that I forgot my phone.  I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, check to see if I was needed.   I couldn’t take any photos (which I would have because it was SO beautiful).  I couldn’t post a super sweet selfie with the gnar pow to Instagram (not saying I would have done this one!). I was alone on a mountain with my dog overlooking a mountain valley that I love like the land I grew up on.  I knew that my adorable family was happy and safe, just beyond my line of sight.  

Ava is skeptical of her new friend.

Ava is skeptical of her new friend.

It is now more than a week later and I can still feel the whole body experience that was afforded me from just a few minutes of silence in the mountains.  Oh, how I took those experiences for granted in the past!

America's youngest ski pro: Opal, 14 months.

America’s youngest ski pro: Opal, 14 months.

As I write this, it is the evening of the vernal equinox–the first day of spring.  Nearly everyone I know is in the manic state of unfocused doing.  We are swimming with ideas and hop from one thing to the next, often feeling like the red queen–running in place, doing so much but accomplishing nothing. In reality, of course we are making strides towards what needs to be accomplished…but the progress often isn’t very perceptible.  Seedlings are sprouting, snow drifts are clearing, workers are being hired, and schedules are being filled with the potential for great growing seasons.

The running of the Iditarod is one of the last hurrah's of Alaska's winter.

The running of the Iditarod is one of the last hurrah’s of Alaska’s winter.

Even in my stay at home mom gig, I hop from task to task and have to remind myself to STOP! once in awhile.  I start off the day relaxed and focused, and by three or four o’clock I’m in such a tizzy I don’t even know what I’m doing!  It’s amazing what a drastic increase in sunlight over a short period of time can do to one’s state of mind (we are gaining nearly six minutes per DAY! Forty minutes per week!).  We are slaves to circadian rhythms if nothing else, amiright?

Trying to teach a three year old to skate necessitates focus!...And arm strength...And patience.

Trying to teach a three year old to skate necessitates focus!…And arm strength…And patience.

So, now I have a tip for you, especially if silence or solitude seem like a very distant possibility and you are one that needs those things to help you reboot.  It is a quick practice that has helped me greatly over the last few months (it was a difficult winter for me and many others, I’m sure).  It is a quick “meditation” of sorts that I got from one of my herbalist doctor inspirations, Aviva Romm.  It is easy and effective: Breathe in and say to yourself, “I am” breathe out and say, “at peace.”  Breath in “I am.” Breathe out, “At peace.”  It’s like a reset button for those times of, what am I doing again? It’s also supremely helpful when your children are whining about who-knows-what for the umpteenth time today…at least that’s what one of my friends told me, my children are perfect angels who never cry or complain ;).

Family reboot with some yoga!

Family reboot with some yoga!

Now that I am more familiar with the rejuvenating effects of experiencing a few moments of true silence, I will seek it out more often.  Do you love silence or solitude or stillness?  If so, where have you experienced it?  Do you have any memories of being taken aback from the lack of stimulus in your environment?  We’d love to hear about your experiences, and perhaps be further inspired to seek these things out ourselves!

I just love this photo.  So mjuch love, so much light.

I just love this photo. So mjuch love, so much light.

In silence and spring preparation, until next time..

Sending you Peace and Love from Alaska,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

P.S. For those of you who are asking, “What the heck is backcountry downhill skiing?!?”  Here you go!

I started backcountry skiing when I moved to Alaska.  This kind of skiing is done without ski lifts, without tow ropes, and without any lift tickets or other monetary transaction beyond buying your set-up and the gas it takes to get to your parking spot.  My ski set-up is, as I like to say, “janky.”  It is all second (or third or fourth…) hand.  Backcountry skis have special bindings that can release at the heel to allow the wearer to trudge uphill.  There are little “risers” that help keep your foot at a more efficient angle vs. the slope of the ascent. 

The only new things I have are those that really matter: my avalanche beacon and climbing skins.  An avalanche beacon sends out intermittent signals that can be picked up by other avalanche beacons should I or someone else, God forbid, get caught in an avalanche.  Climbing skins are strips of fabric that have glue on one side to stick to the bottom of the ski.  the other side has fabric that allows the skier to slide forward but not back—enabling the skier to (very slowly in my case) climb uphill to where she will remove the skins to ski down. I generally also carry an avalanche shovel and avalanche probe…this are used to test snow pits to monitor snow conditions and avalanche risk and also to rescue someone should it be needed.

So, to go backcountry skiing we first check avalanche conditions, then trudge up a mountain, then enjoy the view for awhile and ski down.  Repeat until legs feel like Jello.

Leave a comment 14 Comments

  1. Krista says:

    Oh how I have missed true silence. It has probably been a couple of years since I have been able to experience complete silence. The funny thing is I recall my silence up on top of snowy mountains as well. It’s one of the most peaceful and relaxing experiences. Since I probably won’t be able to experience complete silence until next winter, I am striving to get some silence at the end of my day. This gives me time to regroup myself and relax before bed. Because those whining children happen to live in my house as well! I will definitely give your quick medication a try and see how it helps!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Yes, do try it! It’s an easy little relaxation/focusing exercise and quick reminder to be present. Maybe there isn’t anything quite like the silence found in the snowy mountains? I hope your next venture into silence is rejuvenating :)

  2. Marilyn says:

    That photo of Ava and Opal is adorable.
    Marilyn

  3. Joy Pascarella says:

    We live on 9 acres but with a main road just 0ne mile away and neighbors that have animals, barking dogs, machinery and yelling over the sounds, it can get pretty loud, so much that I can not just sit and hear the quiet of the birds singing or the frogs jumping in the pond. We have started to look for a more quiet place away from traffic and people. I know that quiet you speak of. While looking for a house, we waited for the realtor to show up, and it was dead silence. I can still here it in my mind. Will never forget the feeling of relaxation that came with the peace. We are still looking for a perfect house , but if I close my eyes and think about that house location, I can still get peace. Thanks for reminding me about it and I will be pulling it out every once in a while to think about it.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks for sharing, Joy! It’s amazing that even with a nine acre slice of land in the country, there are still so many sounds. Many of them are joyful, full of life and love and welcomed…but dead silence is hard to find! I hope you find your ideal spot :)

  4. Laura R. says:

    This is my church, I thought. This is my solace and reprieve.

    Amen!! Thank you for articulating what I have felt in my life !! Being outside is everything :)

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Some of my favorite environmental/nature writers allude to natural areas as their holy/spiritual places and it has always resonated with me, as well! Get outside!

  5. Debbie says:

    Hi Alex!
    I LOVE silence. Your note today reminded me of cross country skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains years ago. I remember the kind of quiet where you could almost hear the suns rays hitting the snow covered branches. Here on the shorelines we get some great quiet too. Just waves and a few birds can be just enough silence to quiet all that brain chatter. I love that you got out to experience some silence again. It’s is so refreshing to ones mood.
    You girls are growing and so adorable. Savor these NOT so quiet years with them!
    Happy Spring and Farmgirl Hugs,
    Deb ( Beach Farmgirl )

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Deb! After writing this I was thinking about how most of the sound in life is of the good, kind, memory-making variety. The quiet and rhythm of a beach away from “it all” is one of my other favorite forms of silence! Hope you are great!

  6. Susabelle says:

    I love silence. I am an extrovert, but with some introvert in there that recharges in silence and peace. I usually get this in the mountains. It may not ever be completely quiet – there is the sound of the wind in the pines, and the crackle of water flowing under ice, the occasional call of a winter fowl or in late winter, the huffing of a bear out of sight but definitely not out of hearing! But it is where I find my peace, and my solitude, and my silence. It can really clear my head and heart, which I need so desperately in my busy life.

    Side note: this is the time of year when I stop sleeping. Not completely, but as soon as mid-February hits and we are getting more sun, and through early November, I sleep as little as 4.5 to 5 hours a day. I am not tired, or sleepy, and I function fine. I sleep deeply through December, January, and February, getting 8 hours but never really more than that. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized this was my “normal” and that there was nothing wrong with it, that this is just how my body deals with nature.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      It sounds like you are very in tune with nature, Susabelle! It’s cool to hear about how your body responds to the seasons. My sleep also gets a bit restless…however I cannot function very well on little sleep, so it can be a struggle. There are the ambient sounds in the mountains, for sure. I did notice a few moments of dead silence before the birds were okay with my presence though. Really amazing! As for huffing bears–what a life affirming sound to hear :).

  7. Sandi King says:

    Alex, Silence is so peaceful and calming. The only time I can get close to “silence” is very early on Sunday morning. Here no one is up that early and I go across the road to let my girls (hens) out to run in their enclosed area. But before I do I savor the silence. It is better during the colder months as many sleep in or already gone for the day. It is not true silence but close. I also long for that ‘truly deep silence’ that being away from all noise of life activities brings. The only other silent time I remember was on the farm in NYS late at night and the only sound was the lonely call of the whipporwill. I haven’t heard one of them in over 50 years. I sure miss it.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Oh! I love whippoorwills, too. I haven’t heard one since spring evenings in Wisconsin about ten years ago. I love the imagery of your Sunday morning ritual. Here’s to more peace and calm!

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