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|Seeking the Silence - Page 3|
At the end of each portage—there may have been as many as three or four that day—even though I lay splayed out on the ground, gasping for breath and sweating, I couldn't keep a smile off my face. I loved feeling surrounded by a silence so vast that the noise of my city life was already hard to recall, a silence tailor-made for getting beyond the chatter of my thoughts—or, perhaps, getting to a place where there was no thought at all. Despite sore feet, mosquitoes, and blisters, my spirit was definitely on the mend.
In the days that followed, the rhythm of paddling hour after hour often felt like a kind of meditation unlike any I'd experienced in the quiet of my bedroom, or even in a community of like-minded practitioners. Paddling and drifting into an emptiness of time and space, I found myself trying to make as little noise as possible, just gliding along like the hawks that swirled above me, riding the thermals.
In the years to come, I journeyed farther and farther into the hinterlands, seeking even more isolation in the wilds of Quetico, the lakes of northern Quebec, and the isolated waters of British Columbia. During all this time, Janet never questioned my extended absences. Though she missed me and was concerned for my safety—especially since I traveled in areas where there was no mobile or landline service available—she nonetheless respected my wish for this kind of solitude.
Indeed, solitude was very important to me during those first few years, even though, at times, it could feel daunting. I still remember staring at the receding caboose of a train that had dropped me at the edge of a lake in the Canadian wilds, surrounded by my gear. It would be 10 days before a bush pilot would meet me at our agreed-upon location (long before GPS was commonplace), nearly 100 miles distant. I summoned my fortitude, loaded my gear into the canoe, and set off. I was told that ax blazes on the trees would mark my portage trails. What I wasn't told was that those blazes were many years old and had weathered nearly to the color of the surrounding tree bark. It was a trip in which I learned to heighten my watchfulness and trust my compass readings.
But if the solitude presented challenges, it also was the setting for experiences that the city could never duplicate: the wolf loping along the shoreline that stopped and gazed at me curiously for fully a minute before continuing on his way; the beavers that frequently frolicked alongside my canoe; the otters who popped their heads above water quizzically and comically (looking for all the world like nature's version of Whack-A-Mole); and the bald eagles that would precede me down- river, wait for me to catch up, and then lead the way again.