“But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question.”
― Thomas Merton
It's early afternoon on a crisp fall day in mid-October 1963. My father and I are hunting, working our way down an abandoned logging road on state land in Chenango County, upstate New York. Our English Setter, Lady, has been working the forest on either side of the leaf-covered road, sniffing out grouse and woodcock and doing what dogs do best: living entirely in the moment.
We leave the trail and work our way through a stand of birch. At a downed tree, my father tells me take seat. I do at one end of the log and he at the other. He pulls an unfiltered Luck Strike from the pack in the breast pocket of his flannel shirt and lights up. He takes a drag, exhales, and as I start to mention how Lady is looking at us like we're out of our minds to be parking when the hills are alive with game, he tells me gently, "Stop, and listen to the silence. Just sit still, and listen to the silence."
I watch him as he looks away into the woods, drops his elbows to rest on his knees, and focuses on something in the distance that only he can see. I'm fourteen years old and I'm trying to take the cues of what it means to be a man from this God'Man who's dominated my life since before I had a memory. So, I look myself deep into the woods, feel the wind moving through the trees, smell the rustling of the dead leaves that form the moving carpet beneath us, and do my damnedest to listen to the silence.