“Wasn’t your Grandfather a Comanche?”
“You know my Granfather was Mescalero Apache. He grew up living the old ways and taught me …”. Eck slowed his rant as he took in Wayne’s grin. “You’re an unmitigated asshole.”
“Not true, I’ve been mitigated on several occasions. I always try to get you to talk about those ’old ways’ but you won’t. If I promise to be reverent do I get to hear about them?”
Eck looked at Wayne a long time. Wayne did appear to be serious. Wayne was almost never serious. Eck made a decision.
“Got plans this weekend?”
“What does that have to do with this?”
“If you’re willing to take a trip with me, I’ll let the forest explain it. The forest can take you where words won’t go.”
Having known Eck his whole life and having tried to get him to talk about his Indian heritage without success, Wayne knew this offer was not trivial. In fact, it was the exact opposite of trivial. He said, “I have no plans for the weekend. I would be honored to let the forest take me wherever it thinks I need to go.”
Saturday morning the three hour drive to the ranger station was made in total silence.
The silence continued as they gathered their gear from the trunk. They only had backpacks lightly packed. The silence continued as they began walking into the forest. They had gone a mile when Wayne could no longer stand it. He said, “When does the forest speak to me?”
Eck stopped so abruptly that Wayne almost ran into him. He turned slowly. He wasn’t smiling. He said, “It can only speak if you listen.” What was unsaid was how incredibly loud Wayne was as he stomped along.
Wayne was silent the rest of the way. He asked no questions as they steadily climbed higher and the air got thinner and more crisp.
When Eck stopped on an outcropping of rock that overlooked a breathtaking view of an alpine lake, the silence continued as Wayne honestly felt incapable of forming words worthy of the beauty.
Eck seemed pleased with his silence, but it was hard to read what was going on behind that implacable countenance. Wayne suspected Eck could see his dead Grandfather in his mind’s eye, but was afraid to mention such a thing.
Eck turned and sat cross legged on the rock. Wayne did likewise as it seemed the obvious thing to do. Eck seemed almost in a trance as he began to speak.
“The forest is offended by those that don’t fit. The loud noises you make as you walk are offensive to it. I will teach you to walk so that the forest is not offended.
“It will take you some time for you to master the technique. It seems simple when described in words, but every fiber of your being will resist because you do not belong here. You must first obey what I ask you to do without understanding. The forest will know if you are sincere and will accept you; then you will understand.
“The technique is simple.
“First, start from a standstill. Stand still until the forest accepts your silence. Move only then.
“Second, take only three or four steps and then freeze. Take those steps only on places that little noise will be made. Plan the steps before you take them, take them quickly, and freeze.
“Third, when you freeze, freeze completely. Only move your eyes. If you need to look to the side, turn your head quickly as a bird might, and freeze. Stay thus until the forest is quiet and accepts you. Plan your next steps and move only when you know the forest has accepted you.
“Repeat these steps. Never move until the forest has accepted your silence, and it will eventually talk to you. You will know when this happens; you will not have to ask me. You will know what the forest has told you, but you will not be able to explain it to me because the forest does not talk with words. Go now.”
Wayne started walking into the forest beside the lake. He moved only a few steps and stopped. He looked back at Eck. Eck had his hands over his ears as though the sounds Wayne had made were painful.
Determined to do as instructed, he spun and froze in place. He waited a long time. He planned five steps that were all on rock. He moved and froze completely. He waited, not knowing what to expect. The forest was not saying a thing as far as he could tell.
He did not want to hear from Eck how he had failed to follow what were actually very simple instructions. So, he quit thinking about anything but the instructions he had been given. He repeated the process but felt like nothing had changed. So, he began to pause longer between movements.
At one point while motionless he noticed something. The forest was making noise. More specifically, the animals in the forest appeared to have forgotten him. He could hear chirping birds, chittering squirrels, and other sounds he couldn’t identify.
When he chose to move again, he was very anxious that he make no noise because he didn’t want to disturb the animals. He succeeded. They continued to move around him, living their lives as though he belonged here. At one point he was startled by a deer moving into sight to his right. He did not react because he was paused when it happened. The deer walked past him no more than twenty yards away, never aware of Wayne.
Suddenly, it was obvious. He understood. Words can’t describe the knowing. All things are connected. His desire to not disturb was key. All things depend on each other. Killing a dear could only be out of necessity followed by prayer. Obviously.
He and Eck never spoke on the return drive. Talking was unnecessary.