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|Seeking the Silence - Page 4|
As much as I missed Janet and would like to have called her to describe these events as they happened, I enjoyed relying on my own skill and resourcefulness, and chose to remain incommunicado.
Then came September 2001.
A World Turned Upside Down
"Are you Dick Anderson?"
This greeting by a Canadian Mountie came as an unexpected jolt. It was September 14, 2001, and I'd just emerged from canoeing a series of remote lakes in British Columbia and was unloading my gear for the last steep, uphill portage to where I'd parked my truck some 10 days before. The fact that this policewoman knew my name wasn't surprising, since all wilderness travelers were required to register with the park service, but it was troubling nevertheless. Had something happened to my family during my extended absence?
"I have some bad news. You might want to sit down," she advised with little fanfare. Then she continued. "Your country is at war, but we want you to know that Canada stands beside you!"
I was stunned. At war?! But I'd barely been gone for two weeks! She then proceeded to tell me that the Twin Towers in New York City, from whose rooftop I'd recently observed all the spectacular landmarks of Manhattan below, had been destroyed in a terrorist attack three days before, while I'd been obliviously canoeing the wilds.
Fortunately, she carried a satellite phone, which she offered to me, so I could call Janet. Unable to reach her, I called a friend who reassured me that Janet was fine (as fine as one could be in the aftermath of those attacks), and agreed to pass along a message that I'd call again as soon as possible.
Of course, 9/11 proved to be a watershed event for the entire world, and its impact on my trips to the wild was immediate. While I'd been making my first foray into grizzly country, Janet had been part of a mass exodus from downtown Washington, D.C., while trying to sort out rumor from fact about the harrowing attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Though intending to go home, Janet decided to hang out in our Takoma Park neighborhood, seeking company, familiarity, and comfort. Friends had invited her over, knowing this was no time for her to be alone.
Clearly, my arrangement with Janet about being incommunicado on my expeditions was a thing of the past—my being unavailable at a time of such great uncertainty and distress couldn't bear repeating. My need to be present as a husband trumped any fantasy I might still entertain of being a solitary adventurer. We agreed that on all future trips, I'd carry a satellite phone, and we discussed arrangements for regular contact.
But that shift also contained the seeds of new possibilities for bridging my experience of solitude with my connection back home. One glorious September morning the next year, canoeing on Lake Beverly, a 20-mile expanse of water in Alaska's Wood-Tikchik wilderness, as I listened to an enthusiastic loon serenading its mate, I decided on impulse to share this lively cacophony with Janet. As it turned out, she was driving in her new car equipped to broadcast mobile-phone conversations through the speaker system. She laughed delightedly while the sounds of loons calling back and forth to each other filled her car as she drove down Massachusetts Avenue. Despite a separation of thousands of miles, we marveled at how the miracle of modern technology had created a long-distance moment of marital connection.