I am continuing to love and learn new things through my summer seasonal job as part of an archeology crew for the Forest Service.
Most days, while walking transects, looking for artifacts on the forest floor, I’ve found myself feeling that I’m walking over Silent Stories.
Let me explain…
Part of the purpose of looking for artifacts, is that artifacts add to the historical record where a written record is lacking. This is especially true of “prehistoric” artifacts – items that were created by people groups that may not have had much of a tradition of a written record (their history being passed down orally instead), but this can also be true of “historic” artifacts – items that existed anytime since European contact (1750 – 1800 time frame depending on where you are) to 50 years ago. An artifact can tell you of a human activity in a location that there is not a complete or even partial written record of. Regardless of the age, the artifact carries with it a Silent Story waiting to be pieced together and told.
While an artifact could, arguably, be found anywhere on the forest floor, there is a method to anticipating where an artifact is more likely to be found. This is based on the landscape itself, and understanding where a human would have been more likely to travel through, tarry, or dwell in. As a general rule of thumb, it has a lot to do with slope and proximity to water. As a general rule of thumb, it is likely the type of landscape you yourself would be more likely to travel through, tarry, or dwell in if given the option. To find an artifact in the middle of the woods, where vegetation grows in reckless abandon, feels like stumbling suddenly into narrative of someone else. Even if the “artifact” is just a can…the sensation is startlingly magnificent (at least to an archeology novice like myself).
Anyways, as the season has progressed, I’ve gotten a bit better at anticipating where people might have passed through or spent time in decades or centuries ago, and hence gotten better at anticipating where an artifact might be found. In such portions of the woods I’ve found the sensation of walking through Silent Stories.
I think the Silent Story idea can be applied further to explain what draws us to wilderness. When I try to articulate to myself just what it is that so captivates me about forested wilderness, part of it most certainly has to do with Silent Stories.
In a forested wilderness, the forest itself has been preserved (more or less) just as it has always been, for many years. During these many years in which it has remained the same, many stories have come through the same path you find yourself on. As you walk through forested wilderness, you are walking among these many Silent Stories. Forested wilderness has all the benefits of walking through the stacks of your favorite library or used bookstore – the covered books whispering their Silent Stories to you as you pass them by, or consider opening their cover – but in wilderness it is even better – these Silent Stories sing in the great outdoors: fresh air, natural light, the feeling of wind on skin.
Just as there are Silent Stories held within artifacts, there are also Silent Stories in trails – footprints of hikers gone before you on developed trails, the naturally trodden game trails, and the invisible ones of hikers off-trailing or bouldering the way you sometimes choose to do too. When you walk on any such trail, you are adding your own Silent Story to the symphony of Silent Stories already held on that landscape. Dozens, maybe even thousands of Silent Stories woven together.
Because my job provides me with ample time to ponder while walking (which is part of the working), my mind wandered with this concept of Silent Stories one final step further.
There are many Silent Stories I can see (perhaps the better descriptor is that “there are many silent stories I can feel”) that are waiting to sing aloud in some people I know and love. I don’t know the narrative or the plot line, but I do know the protagonist. Their heart, spirit and passion points ooze with story.
There seems an ironic, inverse relationship in those I’ve observed having this caged Silent Story effect – the more Silent Story they have waiting to take flight, the more they disbelieve they have any story at all inside them to tell. But (for the eager reader like myself) it is undeniable that they have a story within them. It may be silent for now, but I’m a patient reader (hedging on stubborn) and I’ll continue to follow every hint of a page-to-be-released.
In fact, if you are reading this (yes…you), I guarantee that you too have a Silent Story within you waiting to be told. Some part of you already knows this deep down, in some shelved, hidden part of yourself. It isn’t about scale of grandeur or length of words of this story…but I can promise you it is a fascinating tale that will inspire and connect to someone. Let it percolate and brew for a while if you must, but don’t keep it mute forever from everyone…at least let one person read it (may I suggest myself?)
What I’m getting at is that being part of an archeology crew with the Forest Service is teaching me many lessons about the gift it is to develop eyes to see and a heart to hunger for Silent Stories. I long for these eyes to see. I want to become a Master Reader of Silent Stories, and an expert of the language of silence, as I become whatever it is God designed me for (jury’s out on that).
There are many types of Silent Stories in song around us everyday – those in artifacts, those in wilderness, and those in the lives of others. I’m thankful they are available for the reading if we have eyes to see.
And I do so love to read.