Maxwell Butte is a 5 mile hike into the Jefferson Wilderness, climbing 2500 vertical feet to the top, just over 6200 feet.  From the Butte, one can see the high Cascades from Mt. Hood to Broken Top.  On a clear day, one might see Diamond Peak, too.  It is a steady climb, and good trail work by the Obsidian Hiking Club, of which I am a member, has made the big gouge in much of the trail a resting place for downed trees, in an effort to stem erosion.

The best part of the hike came when I least expected it.  That usually happens.  It did not come when I reached the top, nor did it come when I had a great view of Three-fingered Jack right in front of me.  It wasn’t the fact that I was alone, but that was getting close.  It had been windy all the way up, but as I came down, the wind subsided.  Completely.



Outside the wilderness, in deep forest, Douglas firs dominant, with a few Silver Firs,  I was still alone.  But, I now, I appreciated something that I had not yet experienced on this hike.



There wasn’t any wind, no sound from a bird, a squirrel, a car, another person, or a plane overhead.  There was NO SOUND.  My ears rang, it was so quiet.

I know my hearing is gradually worsening.  But the silence was not due to my hearing problems.  There was no sound, and in America today, that is a rarity.  True, one can be in a sound-proofed room or wear sound canceling headphones, but silence in the wilderness is special, for there usually is some noise in the woods.  I’ve experienced total silence in the Grand Canyon, the Boundary Waters, and the Brooks Range.  Usually, the lack of sound has come at night, but on the Maxwell Butte trail, it was in daylight.

I sat there and listened….TO NOTHING…and thought, because without sound one starts to think…..about the Silver Fir near me, the name of which I learned only the prior week on Lowder Mountain.  I thought about the soil beneath me, the beauty of the trees, hundreds of years old, the fact that I was here, had trod these woods, and nobody was near me.  I reveled in my good fortune: SILENCE, NO NOISE.

I didn’t think of the dropped cup in the coffee shop earlier that week, where the acoustics made the noise hurt.  Or how somebody moved a cart by me as if they wanted to make as much noise as possible, as often seems the case today.

I enjoy music, but there are times I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t want to hear ANYTHING, not a beep with more information that often clutters my life.  To be outdoors in silence, away from people, is special beyond words. I believe, albeit without proof, that people need this sort of silence, yet we have countered with a barrage of sound, believing constant information is what everybody needs.  It isn’t. Multi-tasking is overload.  Many of our schedules are overloaded.  I believe there is harm from the constant beeping of messages, many unimportant, programmed voices in a car, sports announcers that feel they have to keep talking, or 24 hour a day television, where “dead air” is something to  be avoided and filled with comments, whether valuable or garbage.  Why can’t we shut up for a few minutes?

A man was once separated from a tour  group in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.  He was found 36 hours later, alive and relieved.  In the cave, there is not one lumen of light.  If the cave is dry, there is no noise at all.  The man said what bothered him the most was the silence.  He cracked rocks together to make noise.  Darkness was a problem, but silence was difficult.   I don’t know if I would feel the same way, but I do label wilderness, total silence, and totally dark skies the “outdoor triad.”  We live less fulfilling lives, I believe, because many people never experience one of these three, let alone all of them together.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Light pollution has been a problem for years, affecting nature and man in nature, too.  We have lost our night sky heritage; the National Parks are trying to deal with light pollution.  Sound pollution is more insidious.  Europe doesn’t have places like the Olympic Peninsula, where the One Square Inch Project is occurring.  Excessive sound damages our hearing.  This is a fact.  It hurts other animals.  That is a fact, too.  It isn’t good for us, and the damage it does to our thinking, the believed necessity to process more information, which I don’t think healthy, is poorly recognized and the consequences not completely understood.

Eventually, a high flying jet broke the spell that I was in.  Jet engines at any altitude can be heard on the ground.

I will eventually live in a silent world, should I remove the hearing aids I will some day need to wear.  What I want now is to periodically spend time in places where there is silence, where no sound is transmitted to my cochleae.

I don’t know why at that particular moment I decided to sit on the log.  Perhaps silence ironically called me.


View from the log.  SILENT

View from the log. SILENT


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