White Noise, Backpacking & Experiencing God
Backpacking requires a vigorous, ruthless distillation of one’s life. With space for roughly 70 pounds of gear in a pack, each item must justify its existence by not just utility but necessity. Food, tent, sleeping bag, clothing, water pump, matches, compass, knife—there’s no room for nonessentials.
Each day demands discipline, planning, and routine.
Water must be pumped through a filter filling Nalgene bottles an ounce at a time. Food cooked over an ultra-light burner, freeze dried pouches filled with boiling water and left to rehydrate. Firewood collected, food stored fifteen feet off the ground (the Smoky Mountains are bear country), map read thoroughly and understood, boots kept dry. The complexity of the digital world replaced by the demands of the wilds.
By my third day in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, my physical and spiritual existence began to depressurize.
Without billboards and TV commercials hammering me with corporate messages, without barrages of phone calls and e-mails, without the constant connectivity of the digital age, I depressurized, relaxed, and begin to experience God in a deeper, more meaningful way. The routines of purifying water, making food, hiking long distances through gorgeous scenery, and cleaning up camp each night simplified my inner world. That narrowing creates more space for the spiritual realm. Less distractions = greater awareness of God.
I bought a red tape deck at a garage sale when I was nine years old.
I recorded all sorts of things on Maxell tapes, the sort which comes in beautiful, golden wrappers. Nearly obsessed, I recorded everything from sappy notes to a girl I liked to my grandmother’s stories about living through the Great Depression (how I wish I’d saved them). I also recorded ninety minutes of tree frogs on a humid august night. Later that year when our farm lay buried under feet of snow, I’d pop in that tape when I had trouble sleeping, which was pretty often. I had a lot of nightmares.
Spending a week in the Smoky Mountains reminded me of that tape. Camped thirty yards from Big Creek, every night Nate and I fell asleep to the sound of water rushing over stones:
Sound immerses us in a way that visuals do not.
Pictures cannot convey what it feels like to stand next to a mountain stream. The narrowing which happens when natural white noise blocks out distractions. Most of the hiking Nate and I did followed trails which crisscrossed Big Creek and other mountain streams. The white noise they produced was as inescapable as it was beautiful.
I’ve grown desensitized to the frantic white noise of modern life.
Only after an “aural detox” did I start noticing the not-so-subtle barrage of noises which fill our world. Microwaves, traffic, the bable of human voices at the office or in a restaurant, the gentle hum of our electronic devices: we eventually stop hearing them, or at least paying attention to them. Right now I’m camped next to a window air conditioner—I only hear it because I’m writing a blog post about white noise.
What I miss most about backpacking is the simplicity.
The white noise of the woods differs greatly from the white noise of an urban life. On a 14 mile hike I saw no one, heard only animal calls and the ever-present sound of rushing water, and ate simply. No mocha-chip frapachinos, police sirens, phone calls, e-mails, media, advertisements, or complex geopolitical events to try and unravel. In that environment prayer becomes easy. Hearing God’s voice, experiencing His love, and knowing His goodness all feel natural.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
Unlike the random cacophonous background noise of the ‘built world,’ nature declares the glory of God.
I made my tree frog recording because it comforted me. Looking back, I believe it was one of the few avenues He had to reach me, to speak to me, to call me out of my darkness. I’m so thankful that we serve a God whose desire to communicate with us transcends scripture. The world he created declares His intent, it’s beauty His creativity, its grandeur His love.
Last, here is a gallery containing a few more shots from the trip: