Last week on the Selway I had the pleasure of sharing my raft with Alan and Pam from Massachusetts. Alan sat in the stern, behind me in the fishing seat and Pam was in the bow, sitting on the padded box.
In order to get to the "Put-In" for the Selway, Pam and Alan rode on a little Shuttle Bus with Ari, the lead guide and outfitter and all the other guests. About an hour and a half into the ride the shuttle bus passes out of cell service. This is the point of digital silence — a significant threshold for all of us these days for some people more than others. Crossing the digital threshold on the put-in drive to the Selway removes a person from the digital networks for six days. Silence. No ringing. No messages. No email. Unplugged.
Alan is a successful Architect. Just before leaving to come out for the river trip he was feverishly putting a plan together for some luxury condominiums. It was a very big deal and had been taking up most of his attention. He had actually been on his cell phone as the shuttle bus crossed the threshold. Done. Cut off. No more work. No more condo design and planning. He depressed the power button and shut down his phone.
On day one when Pam and Alan boarded my raft they checked in with eachother constantly.
"How are you honey?"
"Good honey, how are you"
a few seconds pass..
"Oh I got splashed! Did you get wet, Honey?"
"I did! Are you having fun?"
"Yes, are you?"
A few more seconds..
"Are you having fun Honey?"
"Yes are you?"
With Pam in the bow and Alan in the stern, they were speaking over and through me to maintain their connection, so I heard everything - felt it too. They clearly loved eachother and were excited to be on the river. It was wonderful to be in the middle of their affection and excitement about running the first eight miles of the Selway.
That night we camped at Archer Point, a grassy flat terrace on the left bank sprinkled with Native bunch grasses, Doug Fir, Ponderosa pine, wild rose, Syringa and the lobey-petaled Clarkia.
The next day I noticed that Pam and Alan had settled in. They were less talkative. Quieter. When they spoke I noticed their voices were slower and resonated at a lower pitch.
As we floated down the river that morning Alan sat in silence. I could not see him as he sat behind me but I could tell that his head was swiveling around as he gazed up at the high walls of the river canyon and then down into the clear waters and the rocks below us as we glided over them. He was taking it in. Looking around and appreciating the grandeur of this special place.
All I could hear was the dipping of my oars blades in the water and periodically the call of the Swainson's Thrush - a delightfully bubbly song of high tones and trills. Then would come Alan's quiet, reverent voice.
"Oh my God."
More quiet water sounds and songs of birds and insects. And then Alan again...
This went on to some degree or another for the next five days. This wonderful man, loving husband and father, diligent and successful professional was taking a break and allowing nature to soak into him. He sat, undistracted in the back of my raft and marveled at the pristine and tender wilderness of the Selway River.
Being across the digital threshold helped Alan to connect deeper. He knew he could not be contacted— that he was truly out of the office. Places like the Selway are rare these days. Cell towers and their fields of influence have crept into most regions of the world. There are few places where a person can go for a protracted time and not be under digital/cellular influences. The office can be anywhere.
Of course, I can choose to shut my phone down and impose this state artificially. Or, I can leave my phone at home or in my car and go walk in the city park with the intention to Return to Earth.
Disconnecting to Reconnect takes vigilance and intention. It is worth it though. The states of appreciation, attention and reverence like those that Alan attained while sitting in the back of my raft are priceless and critically important.
Turn off your phone or leave it behind and go take a slow, mindful walk in the woods.