Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rare Moments

A Michigan Wilderness Essay Contest Entry
By Steve Uptegraft

Evening settled gray sliding toward darkness across the forest. Our cross country skis etched softly threw unmarked snow in the Nordhouse Dunes. The cold air felt like snow would start falling at any moment. Other than us, the only movement was a late cardinal, a fleeting flash of red in the otherwise blackening landscape, hurrying to its nest in a cluster of spruce.

“Listen,” I said, stopping in a small, wooded opening.

“To what?” said my friend, looking puzzled. “I can’t hear anything.”

“That’s it,” I replied in a hushed voice. “Listen to the silence. When is the last time you heard it?

“Oh…ya,” he whispered. “Ya.”

We stood perfectly still, almost scared to move or breathe for fear of breaking the silence. It was a magical, mystical event. Then, as quickly as we had found it, it vanished. The cardinal we had seen called out, announcing he was home guarding his nest. Then a breeze rustled the treetops and a branch, overloaded with snow, unburdened itself in a miniature avalanche. An owl, some distance off, hooted a hello to his neighbors, letting them know he was up. Still, we had experienced the moment. A precious moment of natural silence that has become rarer and rarer in our modern world.

A cold, dry snow started falling as we skied back toward the van. I began reflecting on how close we came to losing this last patch of pure, unspoiled wilderness in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I recalled the meetings, letters and articles. Then there were the many state house and senate office calls, committee meetings, and the trips to D.C. with the office visits and testimony at the house subcommittee hearing. And finally, victory, the victory that preserved this spot and the nine others in the Upper Peninsula for future generations to enjoy. A big smile filled my face and warmed my body.

I heard the silence again as we reached the van and began preparing to leaving, but it was somehow different.

“Can you hear that?” I asked.

“The silence, again?” came the reply, figuring that had to be to what I was referring.

“Yes, but no. Can you hearing a faint ringing sound in the background, like little, tiny glass bells?”

My friend stood quiet, listening, perhaps wondering if I was daft. Then a perplexed look came across his face in the light from the van’s overhead.

“Yes,” he finally said. “I think I hear it. What is it?”

“This may sound crazy,” I replied, “but I think it is the sound of the snowflakes hitting together.

“Weird. No way. Is that even possible?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know”

I have thought about it many times since. Had we really heard the snowflakes colliding? Or was it mutual tinnitus…wishful thinking…madness? I don’t know. But still, we had the peaceful tranquility of the Nordhouse Dunes quiet to give us pause to ponder.

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