A year ago (almost to the day), I packed up my belongings from my tiny studio apartment by the beach in Southern California and got in my car.
I drove like hell. Northeast.
Through scorching hot Las Vegas, picturesque Arizona, the clear starry skies of Utah, eventually toward Idaho and Wyoming.
Sixteen hours of driving later, I had arrived at Yellowstone National Park.
I had booked a campground site outside of the park in Gallatin National Forest and would be spending the next week exploring the area. What I found on that journey was probably the most profound sense of calm that I have ever experienced.
I hiked through serene forests and beautiful valleys. I cooked on a small portable camping stove. I watched Bison graze before mating season. I took a swim in the cold and refreshing Yellowstone River.
The best part, however, was that I didn’t have any cell service that week while I was in the park. Not even a clear radio signal would come through my crappy old car stereo. For a week, I spent my time completely disconnected and in silence—it was wonderful.
Like most of us, I had spent the previous four months quarantining. It was an isolated and chaotic, yet an oddly serene time in retrospect. I think I maybe had 10 total in-person conversations with an actual human being in that entire time.
But it was productive. I wrote two screenplays and recorded and released an album. I channeled creativity through the silence.
After many months of quarantining in one small space, I had major cabin fever. I was ready to go. Like most times when I’m feeling a little antsy, I decided to get in the car and drive. Really far.
Perhaps the bigger takeaway is that sometimes we need to do it alone. It’s our own brains that we go to sleep and wake up with. There is power in the independent self.
In our increasingly connected society where everyone is a device away, sometimes we need to get away. Unplug. Sit in our own silence, and reflect.
So here I was in stunning Yellowstone National Park. Just the sounds of nature.
I spent the first four nights camping outside of the park in Gallatin National Forest, which was serene and lovely. I brought my guitar and played at night by the fire.
For the final two nights, I moved over to a large public campsite inside the park. And I was taken aback.
It was loud. Kids were playing and I could hear screaming from everywhere. I witnessed gigantic family-sized cookouts with heavy music on big speakers. Drunken dads were staying up till 3 a.m. loudly talking about sports.
It was a big change in the environment that I wasn’t exactly prepared for.
One particularly boisterous day at the campsite, I left the park and drove East toward Cody, Wyoming, a great, little wild west town.
On my way back through the park, I stopped off at beautiful Yellowstone Lake. A man was fishing while his wife and son proudly watched.
I opened the hatchback of my car and took out my guitar. I started playing and for some reason, one particular song poured out of me: “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“And be a simple kind of man
Oh be something you love and understand
Baby, be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can”
Sometimes you sit and play music and a song just flows out of you as if it was chosen by the gods. And at the moment, it was perfect. I’ll never forget that day.
On my final night, a gigantic thunderstorm blew in. Everyone quickly ran inside their tents, cars, and RVs. And finally, the campground was quiet again. I decided to stay out in the rain, by the fire I had made. I set up an umbrella and watched the fire and rain.
A friendly nearby camper came out and offered me some of her homemade pizza. She was curious that I wanted to stay out in the rain. I told her I was content. It was peaceful.
I now reside in Denver. It’s a lovely city. Some of my best friends live here.
But as I continue to readjust to post-pandemic normalcy and crowds, I’m still thinking about that quiet week spent in Yellowstone.
This November, I’ll be releasing my new album, David Letterman.
A lot of the music was written with those moments of solitude in mind.
I can’t wait to share it with the world.