The summer before my oldest son was born, I decided to take one more adventure with the guys before my days turned into stroller pushing and piggy back rides. I was living in Western Oregon at the time and we decided to hike the tallest peak in Lane County, the South Sister, a dormant volcano in the Cascade range that towers some 10,385 feet above the valley floor and separates the east from the west. What more “holy crap, I’m about to become a father so I need to prove I have testosterone in my system” can you get than climbing a volcano.
Being men who tend to wing it more than not, we left town late after gathering our supplies, and hit the road for the trailhead. We made a plan to see how far close to the summit we could get before it became too dark to hike safely, and then go a bit further. The first 3.5 miles was along a flowing river complete with numerous waterfalls and as the trail turned toward the summit, we encountered a breathtaking high mountain lake that was being hit with the sun at just the right time to provide the most incredible mirrored reflection I have ever experienced.
We pressed on toward the summit after a quick snack and faced ever-increasing steep terrain. As the sun proceeded to fall, our headlamps came out and kept us on the right path. Finally, when night had fallen completely, we decided to make camp and head out just before dawn. As we heated up some dinner and shared some whiskey, we opted to keep our tents packed and sleep under the stars as there was not a single cloud in the sky that could threaten a drop of rain. Around midnight we set our alarms for 4:30 am, giving us enough time to reach the summit for the sunrise over Eastern Oregon and a chance to enjoy the dawn of a new day.
I was almost asleep when I first heard the “crack” off in the distance. Then another. As if some wild animal was crashing through the woods just beyond our makeshift camp. “Did you hear that?” i called out to my fellow hikers. “I did” was the response. Then suddenly the crack and crashing became a rustle, then a slow methodical crunching. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Being city boys who sometimes wander into the mountains for a hike, we were by no means prepared to defend ourselves from whatever beast lie in wait for his dinner in the trees and rocks outside of our now anything but resting place. A Leatherman is indeed a great tool but not one I want to use to defend my life.
Eyes wide open and ears alert to the crunching sounds in the distance I grabbed my headlamp and shined it into the trees. Seeing nothing beyond what it could illuminate and desperately wanting a multi-thousand watt spotlight to bring the light of safety and security to the night and ward off anything that might be out to attack us.
Hearing nothing for a few moments, we tried once again to grab some sleep. There it was again. The crunch followed by a rustle. That is when we realized it was much closer than before. It was right near our backpacks just feet from our heads. How could that be? Surely this creature was enormous and could not be hidden by a small pack. I got out of my sleeping back to investigate further, only to see my buddy’s backpack rustle and a tiny little field mouse scurry off into the night with a piece of trail mix firmly in his mouth. The rustling had been the mouse in the pack and the crunching was him eating the food within.
The silence of the mountain amplified the sounds from a tiny mouse into what we imagined was a hulking Yeti crashing through the trees determined to make a snack out of our flesh. Talk about turning it up to 11.
Silence has a tendency to make small things big. Silence from a potential customer in a sales cycle can make it seem that they don’t value the project as much as you do, or perhaps your solution doesn’t resonate with them. Silence from tech support in a customer service sense amplifies that lack of care and concern from a company. Silence from a spouse or loved one amplifies their frustration. Silence from the world when someone is hurting amplifies their lack of feeling loved and accepted.
Silence in a noisy world can also be productive. It can take a small idea and allow it to germinate and grow into the next big thing. Isolation or quarantine of an idea in silence can allow you to examine all facets of a problem or attack a stubborn issue from another angle.
Silence can make small things big if we give it the chance.