“If men ceased to exist, sound would continue to travel and heavy bodies to fall to the earth in exactly the same way, though there would be no one to know it.”
That’s a quote from one of the many philosophers who have pondered the time-worn question about a tree falling in the woods. When you are in a relatively remote place — say, on a drift boat on a river in a deep gorge, with no cell service — and the fishing is slow, you can find yourself pondering that same question. Floating through stretches of river you could never see from the pool near the parking lot — with no other humans in sight but the ones you’re fishing with — you can easily get lost in the mesmerizing tableau of woods and water around you. You might feel like the first person to ever pass through the place. You at least appreciate the fact that you’re seeing something most people will never see unless they know someone with a drift boat. You might be awed by the silence and the deep, spooky shadows in the hemlocks and pine, and you might recall a phrase from Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy: “When the deep, dark forest was too silent to be real.”
Too silent to be real.
Then you hear a squawk and see a great blue heron come suddenly and immensely off a log, and you feel suddenly and immensely guilty — an intruder who has interrupted another angler’s concentration.
You sense something mysterious. You look again to the thick trees on the shoreline and leave your mind open to the possibility of seeing a bear, or maybe the ghost of Meshach Browning, or maybe the Sasquatch.
I’ve been in the news business for more than 40 years, so, during fishing trips, I have slipped into this bizarre thought about “news” from a wild place — that is, we need a chronicle of the natural disasters that occur along a river when none of us are there:
A 100-year-old sycamore dies and finally falls into the current on a spring afternoon.
Who writes the tree’s obituary? Who spreads news about the way the fallen tree altered the current and created some new habitat near the river’s northern bank?
Does the collapse of an old sycamore merit a mention on the evening news?
Will beavers tweet about it?
Pardon my reveries. When you get to a new place — say, the long middle stretch of a catch-and-release fishery you always wanted to float — you can find yourself wholly distracted by the profound and powerful scenery, the quiet giant scenery. Fishing seems, in those moments, beside the point. Away from the city, off the concrete, and delivered to a place you’d never seen before — the middle of a big river and forest deep below a mountain ridge — you can easily drift into thoughts strange and sublime.