I was at the family cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, a place far removed from the noise of city life (the closest big city is 50 miles away). Yet Thunder Lake (below) has become a beehive of modern pleasures. Most of the old summer cabins are gone, replaced by 3,000- to 5,000-square foot suburban houses. It seems like people don’t want to escape to the woods as much as bring their creature comforts with them.
On the weekends, the lake is full of jet skis, power boats pulling water skiers, and pontoon boats cruising around the lake. Further blocking out the cries of the loons or bald eagles is the loud music played on the boats or coming from speakers set up on docks. Even on weekdays, when most people depart for cities and jobs, the angry buzz of a lawnmower or weed trimmer blasts across the lake, as the landscape crews arrive to make sure lawns are clipped and neat. Near the lake the roads are loud with truck and motorcycle traffic.
There was a time on this lake, back when I was young, when the lake was wilder. People had small log cabins; if you had indoor toilets you were living a life of luxury. No one gave a thought to keeping a lawn; this was the north woods, covered with pine trees, birches, blueberry and blackberry bushes. Why would you spend your precious time up here mowing when you could be out on the lake fishing or swimming? Although my family had a powerboat for pulling skiers, my siblings and I were just as happy to paddle around the lake in our rowboat and canoe.
At my Colorado cabin, most people are sensible enough to not maintain lawns on this rocky soil, so the quiet is mainly interrupted by chainsaws or construction. But today sitting outside all I hear are the gray squirrel’s claws as it runs across the top fence, the piercing cry of the red-tail hawk, the tiny but insistent chirp of the chipmunk and a soft wind through the aspens, now turning gold.
The silence seems immense. I feel wrapped in stillness.