The Stillwater River, MT

April-May 2013 040

Standing beside the crashing river, I could feel the water pound throughout my whole body, landing in my heart. Deep in the water I could hear the pow wow drums beating the song.

The far side of the river was the shallower side. Boulders of various sizes made the water dance and slide in a way that carried my troubles and fears away – far down the mountain.

The near side was deeper, for no rocks showed. Rather than dance and slide, the water took one great dip, then rose like an ocean wave. The crest boiled over into a curve facing upriver. It dared the adventurous surfer to challenge it. The water then rushed on to the next wave and the next, splashing water to the sky.

Watching the water rise into that huge wave, my stomach tickled – like riding a roller coaster…the excitement continued building and building till I had to look away just to recover.

The power of the river gives me strength. It clears my soul.

In John Denver’s song To The Wild Country he sings about Alaska, but his words ring true for every wild country and every person it touches. The chorus goes like this:

To the mountains, I can rest there.

To the rivers, I will be strong.

To the forest, I’ll find peace there.

To the wild country, where I belong.


The land has so much to give.

We must respect it. We need to care for it. We should enjoy it.

Nevertheless, it is vital that it speak to us – that it touch us.

We should not always be the subject of the sentence – the initiator of the action.

We are not complete until we have received from the land.

I came to this conclusion recently on my own, after years of being in nature and after many discussions with others who are not attuned to the wild. Then just the other day I was reading some Native American writings and was astounded at what I found.

The Arapaho have a proverb that says “All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.”

The Huron say, “Listen to the voice of nature, for it holds treasures for you.”

We have much we can learn from the Native Americans (and from the wild) if we are willing.

If you are ever in southern Montana, stop and listen to the Stillwater River.

Sounds of Silence

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything…It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.”

Gordon Hempton, One Square Inch of Silence

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“The soul-swelling wonder of silence.” What an incredible phrase! I have felt it but never knew how to put it into words.

Once, long ago, I was hiking through Silver Falls State Park and I sat down for a rest and a snack. No one else was around. After finishing my snack, I paused. Then I heard it! The natural silence. The pitter-patter of chipmunk feet behind me. The soft  whoosh  of leaves high in the trees. Yes! I could feel it in my chest.

When life gets difficult, I always find myself retreating to the forest. There are other beautiful places to hike but there is a magic about the forest that touches me in a way nothing else does.


My muscles are tight with it all. My mind stuck in an endless flow of negative thoughts. My temper on edge. My patience non-exsistent.

Then I reach the forest. I look for steep trails that lead to isolated water. I hike hard and fast. I push myself, allowing only small amounts of water periodically. My lungs feel it first. The burning. Then my thighs start to ache. Sometimes there are tears. I am not ready for the silence yet. The forest is only beginning its work on me. I feel protection from the trees. I feel the firmness of the trail beneath my feet. I feel the boundlessness of the sky above me. I feel the hidden animals aware of my intrusion. I feel much that I am not consciously aware of.

When I finally reach exhaustion, I stop and look around. I can begin to see again. A thousand shades of greens and browns. The view down the valley.

I find a place for a snack and sit, replenishing my energy and soaking in the feel of the forest. I am half way there.

My hiking is now slower and my thoughts match my pace. The negetive thoughts have stopped their insistent hammering in my head.

Then I reach the water. Just the sight of it soothes me. My thoughts and emotions settle. I need to touch the water, to feel its coolness slip over my hands. Next, I find a place to sit as close to the water as possible. Another snack and I am ready for the silence. I sit and listen. The tiny lap of water on the shore of the lake. The birds crying as they circle overhead.

How long have I sat there? One, two, three hours? I refuse to take a watch hiking. A glance at the sun tells me when I need to be heading downtrail so I won’t get caught in the dark. “The soul-swelling wonder” of the silence has nurtured my human nature. It is difficult to head home, but I do. I will be patient and kind once again. But not for long. Soon I will need to return to my forest and my silence.