By: Kate Seader, Interpretive Ranger at Franconia Notch State Park
Silence was never something I was particularly fond of. The room goes silent when someone has spoken out of turn. Two friends fighting have a tense silence between them. For me, silence gave my overactive brain a canvas on which to paint everything that could go wrong.
I grew quite adept at filling the silence. Words tumbling out of my mouth and crowding the space, not leaving room for others to speak for fear that they wouldn’t.
Music was my first choice to fill space, too many loose words caused me to trip and make a fool of myself. Music was a comfort that I depended on, never without headphones, the radio always on in my car.
When first arriving at Bear Brook this past winter I felt at peace in a place full of sound. With 27 of us filling the cabins and lodge with the sounds of cooking, music, movies, and discussions about everything from the environmental impact of hydroelectric power to how many of us would dye our hair by the end of the program. When this cacophony faded I turned to my instruments, voice, and sheet music to shut out the silence.
Only a few days into the program we went on a short group hike to Smith Pond and its shelter. The snow was thick with 27 pairs of feet crunching through it towards the pond. Quiet murmurs flowing between members as the first strings of friendship started to form. Once we reached the frozen surface of the pond we were free to explore and head back in at our leisure. Having spent my college years in Florida I was unused to the cold and found myself walking back through the snow in the footsteps of my comrades alone.
Snow Quiet: When snow covers the earth like a blanket and subsequently turns down the volume.
I had never experienced anything like it. When before a silent walk through the woods alone would put chills up my spine I found this deadening of noise between the pockets of air trapped between icy crystals surprisingly calming. My pace became more leisurely and I began to linger when walking between buildings at camp. For the first time I found myself craving something I never had before, silence.
All too soon the snow had melted, the last class for field trips had gotten back on the bus, and I was sent out to Franconia Notch State Park. When working the desk at the Hiker Cabin my days are filled with a melody of questions peppering the underlying bassline of cars rushing by. Once my workday is through I am compelled away from the road and upwards. I tell Haley where I am going, and then I find myself walking alone up the mountain in the silence.
Now true silence in unattainable for me while hiking. Blood rushing in my ears, the harsh rasp of breath as my asthmatic lungs struggle to keep up with overexcited feet, the scrape of boots on steps, winds causing the leaves to talk to one another. Silence is found between the sounds of insects buzzing, chipmunks chattering, and water flowing between stones.
Alone in my contemplation, plodding mile after mile I realized it was not auditory silence I was craving, but silence of mind.
One boot-fall after the other like the swinging of a hypnotist’s watch left my mind quiet and malleable to my own needs. I seized on this realization and started turning to the mountains when my mind was in an uproar.
If a current event is frustrating me I will go to the bike path and run; seeing the forest rushing by reminds me that this too will pass. When a friend is hurt we walk a familiar path to stare down at the lotuses in the pond, the silence between us only adding to the comfort of the others presence. Untangling my problems becomes easier when walking along bog boards; as though with each step I pull one more string loose.
When I don’t know where I am going, which happens quite often in your early 20s, I can pick a mountain and give myself a destination. This trail buys my silence, if only for the journey. But if I’m lucky, in that silence, I will find what comes next.