The walk was about a half mile. There were a few traces of footprints before me, but they were at least one or two snowfalls old. The ground beneath me was crisp as I snapped through the ice with each step. Without much embarrassment I can say I cry on my walk out to the cabin, named 'The Hut'. I could physically feel the worries of Grand Rapids and smog of Los Angeles (both actual and people-oriented) falling off my back, as a familiar, yet overwhelming peace pulls me deeper into the forest.
I know the path through the woods. Take a hard right at the old barn. Slight left in the clearing. Slight right back into the trees and follow the path. In the clearing, I look over what remains of the labyrinth, a small portion of grass cut in a giant circle used in monastic traditions to work through issues, and see nine or ten deer having an afternoon snack. We both pause and look each other over. They determine I’m no threat and munch on. By the time I arrive at my twenty by fifteen foot home for a long weekend, I already feel new, in the middle of nowhere, completely alone in the best way possible.
The Hut is small. There is no electricity or running water. It has a wood-burning stove and a small twin bed with flannel sheets on a rickety bed frame. It has windows on all four walls, with an image of a grinning Amish farmer constantly making me curious about what he knows that I don't. There is a small wooden front porch with a two-person swing and a firewood shed, which seems low on wood for this time of year, off the side of the cabin.
The first thing I always realize is how loud I am. Every move I make is a record scratch to the silence. You start lengthening your movements as your body realizes there is no hurry. It’s starting to get dark so I gather some wood to start a fire, remembering back to my Boy Scouts training. Every time I visit, I always have the best intentions to create a fire using only one match, no paper, no "fire water". Despite being awarded a merit badge declaring I can make fire in three different ways including a single match, a nine-volt battery and steel wool, and the old fashioned way of rubbing two sticks together, I realize I’m just too lazy and not nearly competitive enough in this cold to prove anything to myself. I find evidence of someone else who previously gave up before me and left the remains of a Whole Living magazine. The cover preached, "It's all about loving the skin you're in!". Well, magazine, it is my intent to burn you, and you will keep my skin warm this evening, and yes, I will love you for that.
After I'm there for a few hours, overcoming the electronic twitches to keep reaching for my phone, I undress to pack it in for the night. I step outside to the ledge of the front porch, elevated four or five feet in the air, and I piss. I urinate directly ahead, really striving for distance, swerve a bit to the left, back to the right. I piss into the giant quiet valley before me, simply because I can.
As I'm peeing, in my camping underwear and untied boots, I hear a pack of wolves, maybe a mile away, howling away at the bright moon. My eyes widened and I started grinning from ear to ear. It was obvious that I was a part of their pack tonight. So I did as any red-blooded “Lost Boy” would do and began howling with them, in the middle of our woods. My howl was the declaration of my momentary freedom and the intention to focus all attention on pressing for more life over the next few days. As I listened, I could hear the short, eager yelps of the small pups, followed by the alpha male crooning it's deep voice into the night. This last holy howl seemed to be the final ending note to this glorious choir of carnivorous beasts, each knowing their purpose in life. To eat. To breed. To report the news to the moon. It lasted about a minute, but that minute was for me. I hope they heard me and understood I was in agreement with them.
I return inside, invigorated by that moment, and write by candlelight for a few hours before sleepiness sets in. I have no idea what time it was because there are, purposely, no watches and no phones. There is only sun and no sun. I tend the fire for the evening, prepping it for eight hours of warmth and climb into bed. I sleep for a length of time, unknown to me, but when I wake up in the dark I can only hear the quiet. No humming of the refrigerator. No heat clicking on and off. No buzzing of electrical outlets. The only thing I can hear is a small ringing in my ears. Eventually, I fall back to sleep and wake up at, my goodness, I don't really know when. I woke up when there was sun.
After sleeping as long as possible, I threw a couple of logs on the fire and throw on my boots for a walk. I hear woodpeckers, hawks and songbirds which surprises me considering the time of year. I walk beside a curious and somewhat angry chipmunk, who was so upset he marched next to me barking in regards to my invasion while planning his leaps from tree to tree. I determine that overnight I was being hunted by a buck, who was leaving his snow prints next to and encircling my own boot prints. When I return to the conductor's podium on the ledge of the front porch to, you know, I realize he had also visited to sniff my pee to determine my threat-level. Not sure what his final decision was, but I feel worthy of being considered a threat. Maybe he was concerned a wolf moved in the night before.
I have determined I will build my own hut one day. I will call it the Inkwell. And now that I've told you, I'll have to trademark it. Meh. Steal the name if you want. We all need an Inkwell, a place to refill our pens with the quiet and our souls with the warmth of a hand built fire. Where we can run away and howl at the moon with our neighbors, where we are tracked by bucks or rabbits or owls or who knows what else. I will stock the Inkwell with a similar type of quiet, the most invigorating sound I've heard to date. The most melodic. The most powerful. The most appropriate. The rarest form of sound I will ever hear - nothing.
I haven't showered in four days and worn the same outfit for each of them. I read. I write. I walk. I nap. There are no other options for a distinct reason. Through the purging of all distractions, I finally feel able to quiet down the clutter in my head, to sit, accepting the silence, and when I'm ready, to let words pour out of me. This is a place where a single day feels like three and the accomplished work would agree. This is a place you'd like to run away to, but you know the magic would eventually wear off, so you keep it as a hidden gem and anticipate the next return.
Oh, dear Lord, please don't make me one of those introverts.
Last night, as I was walking in the moonlight, I had a pretty serious seizure. Nearly dropped to my knees. I walked slowly back to the hut and laid down. My family is always concerned this will happen. And it did. But as I told them, I can't live my life in fear that a seizure will hold me back. I have to keep living. And should a seizure be the cause of an early death in a tiny little hut, in the middle of a quiet forest, so be it. I really can't imagine a better way to go. Dust-to-dust and whatnot. But I have a King David complex. I feel God put me on this earth to accomplish something that I have not done yet. Just as David defeated Goliath, assuming that he couldn't die because he was not yet the king, I'm starting to hold God to a similar agreement. Until I do what He's created me to do, I'll just press forward with as little fear as possible.
A year or two ago, a tornado moved through my pissing valley, nearly wiping out The Hut. The winter has stripped the leaves off the branches, revealing the depth of the destruction only a hundred yards ahead. Trees that have been standing for who knows how long, were leveled by this mighty wind. I remind myself it was God's decision to display this power and to also offer the silence I'm now enjoying.
There was a tiny Mennonite church business card pinned on the wall next to the window:
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. The Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks, and strips the forest bare.
And in His temple all say, "Glory".
- Psalm 29:5,6 & 9
Sitting at my desk, I am forced to look over the evidence that God can bring down a track of hundred-year old trees and make them stay silent for a hundred more. This train wreck, created by what seems like an angry God, is also home to the creatures He also created, who, after a year or two, have all sorts of new nooks and crannies to hide away in through the winter. And now, looking over my temporary valley, I realize maybe I’m doing the same. After facing my own train wreck, I'm choosing to escape, finding my own nook filled with miraculous silence, surrounded by a community of creation.
Today, sitting in His temple, I say 'Glory'.
There are a few things to keep in mind should you go find your Inkwell. I suggest you bring a magazine. Whole Living, Good Housekeeping, whatever. Your intentions of purity when it comes to fire building will most likely not be as strong as the cold. Also, apparently lamp oil freezes. I recommend putting it close, but not too close, to the wood stove once you get it up and going. It will melt in about an hour. Unlike Motel 8, there won't be a light left on for you, but trust me, the moon will do just fine. And forget the outhouse, just pee off your front porch.
So as I leave, I'll ask the Amish farmer, again, if he'll tell me his secret. I'll step outside, close my eyes and listen once more for my wolves. I'll scout the forest for my poaching buck. I'll sweep up after myself and put out my fire. I'll bring some more wood inside and place it next to the wood stove. I'll leave behind some extra tea bags. I'll remake the bed sheets with the extras left behind and pray for whichever one of you is bold enough to come behind me, to drop your life for a few days in order to find it. I'll get in my car and head back to town and remember what happened, meanwhile, in the woods.