This week, when our nation’s inner anger is spilling in every direction like a dozen Kilahueas I’m in the absolute best place possible.
I’m at a youth camp tucked inside the rugged mountains north of Boise.
There is absolutely no cell phone service.
There is absolutely no wifi.
There are no screens of any kind.
There are, though, about one hundred young women, and a dozen or so older women running things. There’s also me and one other guy. We (the guys) are here for—well, I’m not sure exactly what. Fighting off bears, maybe, or lifting heavy boxes.
There are also birds. Lots of them. They woke me up this morning at about 6:30, and kept me company while I started getting ready for the day.
There’s a silent blue sky overhead punctuated with small clouds drifting by. I watched one for about five minutes, just to see how fast it was moving against the pine trees serving as place markers. Then I realized I haven’t spent five minutes watching a cloud roll through the sky since I was fifteen years old.
It occurs to me that fifty years is a long time between episodes of cloud watching.
At the moment, and I’m writing this at mid-week, I’m seeing how long it takes the sunlight to roll down the side of a west-facing mountain after first lighting its peak like a candle on a birthday cake.
Naturally, one worries about the young ladies in situations like this. Think of all they’re missing. What’s up on Facebook? What new on Instagram? None of them have cell phones, so they can’t even shoot funny-faced selfies for posting later.
No YouTube. No Twitter. No email. There’s not even the always too loud white noise of modern life—FOX News and CNN—blaring in the background.
Yesterday was the first day, and it took a little adjustment. I saw several girls unconsciously reach for their back pocket, like we all do, just to make sure it’s still there. But it wasn’t. Then came the momentary eye jerk of concern, then the realization of the strange new world they’ve entered.
For all the sheer fun of girls hanging out with friends and new friends in the making, you couldn’t help but notice the vague unavoidable undercurrent of mild anxiety that occurs when your lifelines are suddenly cut loose.
And that’s when, after your brain forces you to adjust, all the hokey things start to beckon. And in the absence of Snapchat, the girls gamely give it a try.
In the big room there’s ping pong. There’s a piano in the corner. There are long tables filled with crafts, the kinds where you use scissors to cut paper and stick popsicle sticks together with Elmer’s Glue. And since everyone’s in the same boat, they can all get on with it without being judged a lame-o.
It’s fun to watch them open up, and to laugh without that faintly-on-guard hesitation girls so often employ.
And now that western mountain is fully lit, the girls’ volume level is beginning to climb, and the bugs that come out in the sunshine are beginning to squirm. In another hour the sweatshirts will start coming off. By mid-afternoon it’ll be hot, in a high altitude Idaho summer sort of way.
Tonight there’ll be a campfire, and in the warmth of fading day and gently crackling flames deeper feelings will be shared and received with love and acceptance.
In a couple of days it will be over, sleeping bags will be rolled up, and the dust clouds will billow as cars pull away down the dirt roads.
Cell phone service will be restored. Facebook will be checked. Life as we know it will resume. We’ll all be able to hear angry shouting from ten thousand miles away, and since someone is always shouting somewhere in the world, the shouting we hear will never stop.
I’m not suggesting the problems facing the world aren’t important. I am suggesting that the difficult problems we face might be better solved with less shouting, and more time spent tracking silent clouds across the sky before opening our big fat mouths.