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Growing up in the city doesn’t afford many opportunities for quiet or solitude, but I would seek them out nonetheless. Some of my earliest memories involve me being alone, in relatively quiet places. Whether alone atop Mt. Tabor, or sitting on the roof of our garage – which was a favorite place. Sometimes I would find solitude in my bedroom, behind the couch, or even riding my bike. Later, in my teens, we always had a tree fort where I spent many afternoons seeking peace and quiet.Two Sans Umbrella

However, as a child of the city, what I thought was quiet was merely a lack of distraction. The ever-present background noise never stopped. Being a child of the 60s, my transistor radio and 45rpm records – later cassette tapes and a stereo – always played music. In the car, in my room, or as a young adult on my motorcycle, there was always music. And of course there were the sounds of traffic, people, and the accompanying commotion. Sirens, trucks, airplanes, and the whine of tires on the highway. It was, in the truest sense of the word, ubiquitous.

Even my early childhood exposures to the great outdoors were filled with noise. My family always camped in crowded state parks and my grandfather always trolled when we went fishing. Somehow, despite the drone of the trolling motor, or the business of the campground, I was still able to find solitude. When camping, I’d build a shelter on the beach and my dog and I would watch and listen to the surf. It was soothing, refreshing, and energizing. While fishing with my grandfather, I’d lie back and let the hum of the boat motor envelop me in a hypnotic trance of daydreams.

After a severe personal crisis in my early 20s, I began to seek a better way of living. I sought peace and serenity – which led me to spend time in the mountains of Western Oregon. The most significant of these experiences was a five-day journey near Lolo Pass, on the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only was I alone, but I purposefully didn’t tell anyone where I was. Though not safe, and I would never recommend this, there is something very freeing about making it difficult to be found – especially by those who would want to find me.

Top of Mt. Hood, OregonThose five days in the woods were filled with beauty, solitude, loneliness, freedom, release, and healing. The view of Mount Hood was stunning. The wind cascaded through the trees with a dichotomy of terror and gentleness. I feared bears and cougars, but never saw any. I feared being discovered, but never saw another soul. I reveled in the sunshine and enjoyed the rain. I felt wild and alive – and it was quiet.

Over the course of the next several years, there were a few times of quiet, but mostly life was just filled with stress, business, and noise. Visual noise, auditory noise, and the detritus of human interaction. I played the soundtrack louder in order to overpower the noise, but this, in retrospect, just created more noise.

I remember nights spent on Council Crest or Mount Tabor, soaking in the starlight and cityscape. There was solitude, but it was never quiet. Sometimes the wind blowing through the trees would drown out the cacophony of city life below, but often that city life was a comforting presence – reassuring me that I was not alone in my stress. More than once I approached one of these high places, doubting I could continue to trudge forward, but the bitter-cold winds blowing through the trees and the crystal, twinkling starlight hovering over the sparkling city, all cooperated to bring peace to my soul.Portland On Fire

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I will never forget the first time I experienced absolute quiet. It was also the first time I heard an orchestra in my ears. Like voices, but not. Like music, but not. Like the roar of a busy city, but not. Like putting your ear up to a seashell, but not. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe it. It was so strange, so unknown, and so seldom experienced – I have no way to explain it to someone who has never heard it. There are probably several people who have heard nothing – absolute silence – but I’ve never heard anyone try to describe it.

To be honest, I didn’t like it. I wanted to turn on a radio, shout into the sky, or make it go away. I forced myself to listen. I forced myself to stay with it. I almost thought I was coming unhinged. I closed my eyes and listened. It scared me – but I knew there was nothing to fear. Or was there?

Read this man’s experience with absolute silence.

“after a minute or two, I became aware of the sound of my breathing, so I held my breath. The dull thump of my heartbeat became apparent – nothing I could do about that. As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn’t explain. Was I hallucinating?” ~ George Michelson Foy

What if the repressed fears of my soul could be heard? What if I began to hear the screams of fear in my heart? What if there were memories, regrets, or desires that are hidden in my soul? What if I listened to all those private, inner voices? Would I go crazy? Could I handle those voices? I began to cry – not just soft, whimpering, but deep, heaving sobs. The silence was broken.

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In the early 1990s some friends and I went to Alaska on a sea kayaking adventure. We spent nearly three weeks away from our homes and jobs. It’s the first time I’ve taken vacation that long. The first week was spent traveling up the coast by ferry, from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. And after a night or two in Juneau we flew to Gustavus, at the opening to Glacier Bay Alaska, and spent another two days there before setting off on our great Alaskan vacation.

For the next two weeks, after being dropped off far up into the bay, we camped and paddled amongst the beauty of unadulterated wildness. It was an amazing opportunity to experience whales, bears, birds, and calving glaciers. The clarity of the night sky was beyond description – with an untold number of stars that are rarely seen by those in more civilized climes. There were no outside distractions, no electronics, and nothing to break the quiet.

But it was our last night when the whole experience exploded. It started with a pack of wolves visiting our camp and a full moon rising above a neighboring mountain horizon. With the arrival of the moon, the wolves began to howl. They were all around us and it was the most amazing symphony I’ve ever experienced. They howled from the forest, they howled from down the beach where we were camped, and they howled from the neighboring mountain. We were surrounded by wolves and they sang in perfect harmony.

Glacier Bay_TiltAnd yet, God wasn’t finished delighting us. With the accompaniment of the wolves, and the light of a beautiful, late Summer moon, we were treated with the most spectacular fireworks display powered by the aurora borealis. There were streaks of green, flashes of amber, and even some red highlights. The sky danced with light and color. (Later, a local forest ranger told us it was the most spectacular display of Northern Lights he’s ever seen.)

The night was far from over though. My six friends, not being night owls, had escaped to their sleeping bags, but I couldn’t even begin to think of sleep. The night was magical and I stood under the canopy of stars, listening to the wolves, watching the sky writing of the Northern Lights, and marveling at the rising full moon. I could only say “Wow. Wow….. Wow.” And then I heard movement in the water behind me.

At first I thought it was a whale, maybe sea lions – of which we’d seen many, but soon I heard the exhalation of many breathing holes. It was a pod of dolphins! Just when I thought the night couldn’t get anymore fantastic, a pod of dolphins shows up to patrol the small bay where we camped.

Though the show continued through the night, I finally resigned myself  to the inevitable and crawled into my sleeping bag. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the happy, howling wolves.The Wolf......

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Arising to the sunrise, I was the first up. The sky was clear, the bay was still – very still, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard. I walked down to a nearby creek to bathe and start my day. The sun was already burning brightly on this warm August morning. A wolf sat about 50 yards away, watching me bathe in the creek. But it was the stillness of the morning that struck me.

I was still basking in the afterglow of last night. My heart rose in song and worship, while the wolf studied me curiously, his head cocked to one side. After I dressed and walked away from the creek, I sat on a rock and looked at the mountains across the bay. The stillness was deafening. The water was still and the mountains were perfectly reflected on the water. There wasn’t even a wisp of wind.

Once again, like it had years before, the quiet overwhelmed me. But this time I was better prepared for it. My heart was at peace because of the magical night of wolves and Northern Lights. As I sat in the sunlight, bathing in it’s warmth, I heard nothing. It is always disquieting. But too rare in all our lives. It saddens me to think that some have never heard absolute quiet.

Like before, the quiet remained indescribable. The sounds of my heartbeat and breathing were very pronounced. And like before, the voices of my soul were noticeable. But unlike before, I relaxed in the quiet. It didn’t unhinged me. I just reveled in the sound of nothing.

Too soon, the morning came to a close. My friends walked down the beach to find me – they were afraid I’d been eaten by a grizzly. We packed up our camp and within an hour the boat returned to take us home to civilization. Two days later I was home.

For the next two weeks, I slept in my sleeping bag and lived out of my pack. I hung the Glacier Bay map on my wall and lived on trail mix and dried fruits. To be honest, it was a bit depressing coming back to civilization – especially after the visions of grandeur I experienced in Alaska.

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Twice, since arriving in Valentine, I’ve experienced quiet like this – absolute, pure, unadulterated quiet. Accompanied by a canopy of a billion stars, I revel in this world created for us.

Have you ever experienced quiet like this? What was it like for you? Did it unhinge you? Were you moved? Where were you? Do you seek moments like this? How did it affect you? If you can’t find quiet like this, what do you do to replace the experience – in order to remain serene and healthy?

I am content with the sound of the ocean, the wind blowing through the trees, or the babble of fast moving stream. Even the sensory deprivation of a long hot shower will work. Each of these experiences reset my internal clock and give me the courage and peace to continue the battle. But nothing is like absolute, perfect, disquieting silence. I wonder if it’s possible to experience this, Zen-like, in the midst of a cacophony of noise and commotion.

The kids couldn’t ride with me in the truck because I couldn’t figure out how to disable the passenger-side airbag. So I got had to drive cross country by myself. I know each of the kids would have enjoyed some time in the truck, and my Wonderful Wife would have appreciated a bit of a break. I, on the other hand, really enjoy my time alone on the road. It always gives me time to process.

(this is the missing piece from last week’s post found here)

After dealing with the ordeals of liquidation, packing, moving, and leaving our Oregon life behind, I had two huge fears. First was the fear of mechanical failure in the truck and van. The other was my fear of traffic, motor vehicle crashes, and the loss of my family.

The truck was overloaded. In fact, we left several nice items behind based purely on weight (I kept thinking about all the covered wagons on the Oregon Trail that tossed out prized possessions along the journey). The radiator leaked, I wasn’t too sure about the engine – with over  250+k miles, and the rear tires don’t have much tread left on them. I was actually “OK” with a breakdown, though the prospect of unexpected financial costs were somewhat daunting. It was the fear of a catastrophic accident that frightened me – and leaving my family fatherless.

I read recently that “all emergency responders are wounded.” The PTSD is cumulative. We, paramedics, firefighters, EMTs, and police officers, see things no sane person should see – and few of us remain sane after seeing all of this. Whenever I see loved ones get into a car, a twinge of fear goes through my heart. This is the fear I had for my family driving cross country. Despite my own paranoia, driving does remain on of the most dangerous activities any of us will participate in. I never feared death until I had a family – now, I fear their deaths, and my own.

After realizing the fear and sorrow of this whole ordeal, confessing and admitting it, I was better able to hit the road – but the above fears continued to haunt me. But a few days into the journey, I experienced a breakthrough.

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Larry Crabb speak at a conference in Denver. I was impressed with his views on community and God’s love. I bought a couple of his books and MP3 audio presentations, but due to our hectic life over the past six years, I never really took the opportunity to explore his material – until last week. After two days of driving, I pulled up the audio version of his book, Finding God.

I love the synchronicity of perfect timing. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the book before, and I’m certain it would have spoken to me, but the healing power of this book was made more powerful after the perfect storm of fear I experienced during our exodus from Oregon.

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Just down the road from Rainier is a weathered sign indicating a Whistling Swan refuge and nesting wetlands. The sign, as are the wetlands, seem to be unnoticed and even forgotten by most. I had never heard of Whistling Swans until I saw this sign, but a quick check online revealed they are now called Tundra Swans. They spend their Summers in the Arctic Tundra, and they Winter in various places throughout North America.

We have lived here for five years and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Tundra Swan. But last week, just before collapsing into bed, I heard an unusual calling in the night sky. It was softer and more melodic than a Canadian Goose. It wasn’t ducks. It almost sounded like the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, but softer – and there were many birds. The herons don’t fly in flocks.

A few days later, I heard them again. And then the next night both of us heard them. After a quick search of my Audubon Bird app, I was able to determine we were hearing Tundra Swans. It was exciting to read about this magnificent bird with a 10 foot wingspan, a tremendous migratory history, and their faithful mating practices.

I heard several more flocks going overhead last night, and when I got up this morning, I watched two flocks overhead. Now, recognizing their call, I didn’t even need binoculars to identify them – for they were high in the sky.

As I stood on our now empty back deck on this cool, Fall morning, I could feel change in the air. Fall, for whatever reason, has always been my favorite season. This might be true for many introverts. It is a time of change, a time of reflection, and a time of mourning. We mourn the loss of Summer – and this has been one of the best Summers the Pacific NW has experienced in quite sometime.

Maybe it’s a melancholy thing – Fall that is. Nothing brings out the depth of melancholy like the changes of Fall. Winter, and its bleakness are soon to be here, and Summer celebrations are winding down. Fall is the harbinger of death, Winter epitomizes death itself.

I thought I’d made peace with our foreclosure and departure. But yesterday, I realized I hadn’t. As I walked beside our house, up a gravel path my friend Jack helped me lay, I was struck by a sense of mourning. This is a good house, it is on a great piece of property, and everyone mentions how peaceful it is here. If I were one to cry easily, I would have cried at these thoughts. Nonetheless, I was struck by a sense of grief and loss.

In a couple of days we will be throwing away everything that has no real value; we will be donating some stuff to a local charity; and we will be selling the last of our furniture and appliances. In a few days, we will be joining millions across America in a homelessness brought about by a decline in the middle class. We will retrace the long journey of our ancestors on the Oregon Trail, but in reverse. What took them months, we will undo in a matter of days.

The Whistling Swan is now called the Tundra Swan, but I’m sure you won’t find a single one that is even remotely concerned by the name change. Like those who have criticized us for letting ourselves fall into poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, I am unconcerned. My concerns lie in the health of our family. It’s better to be concerned about issues that actually affect our lives.

This morning, I awoke at 3am. I saw the brightness of the night, illuminated by an almost full moon. I heard the Tundra Swans flying south for the Winter. My mind raced through the thousands of details yet to be dealt with before our evacuation. My mind was not at rest, nor was my heart at peace. I prayed, I surrendered, I accepted.

I opened a book to a chapter describing Lot and his family being evacuated from Sodom before its destruction. They were hesitant, they were afraid, and they were confused. The author described Lot as being “stupefied by fear.” I’ve seen this, as a paramedic dealing with some of life’s most terrible events, I’ve seen people in complete disarray and totally undone by what they have witnessed and/or experienced. I understand this phase.

I have good reason to be afraid. I have good reason to be hesitant. I even have good reason to be in mourning. But I also have good reason to be courageous. I have a very good reason to be bold. I even have a good reason to celebrate the changes that lie ahead. Not that I naturally pursue the positive outlook, I tend to be too cerebral for that – too melancholy – and way too prepared for the “what-if.”

As I read last night, I was reminded again about the consequences of leadership. One can lead into success or failure. Lot’s leadership, or the lack thereof, resulted in hesitancy in his family. First, his wife, grieving for the past, turned and looked back on the wealth she was leaving behind. No doubt memories, mementos, and friendships lost to the destruction flooded her heart with sadness. She lost her life and Lot lost his wife – all because of doubt and hesitancy. Later, his daughters committed detestable acts because of their own doubt.

We have struggled, we have prayed, we have grieved, and we have been discouraged. I lost my job three years ago because I would not put my job before my family. I gave up my job five months ago for the same reason. We believe we are being led into a new adventure – one filled with greater peace, greater health, and great opportunity than what lies here.

We are done here. It is sad – but don’t grieve, don’t pity, and don’t offer condolences. Please help us to celebrate a new opportunity to trust God fully, Yes, empathize with the challenges, but do not encourage us to wallow in grief – that is not only dangerous, but unnecessary.

Note: In the short-term, we have been invited to stay with my Wonderful Wife’s aunt, on her ranch in Nebraska. We don’t know what the future holds after this.

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