It was late in the season as we moved camp for the umpteenth time to a remote site bordered by snowy mountains in the pristine wilderness of the Yukon Territory. By now I was well-broke in to wrangling horses in the early mornings, heading out with a guide and hunter for the days, and doing camp chores in the evenings. I was tired all the time to the point that if we stopped for any length of time longer than 10 minutes I was nodding off in the saddle, or finding a bush to lay down under for cat nap, yet my body had grown accustomed to the hard work and long days and for the most part I was in excellent physical shape.
The weeks previous we had shifted camp all by packhorse, from Hyland Lake to the Yesezu Camp to the Grayling Lake camp, to the Caribou Camp, situated on a broad plateau that the caribou migrated across. This would be the furthest north I had traveled in my time horse wrangling in the Yukon.
The cabin at Caribou Camp was older and in rough shape. A tarp was thrown over the roof to keep leaks out and I recall the interior being dark and dank feeling. There was a window but we never took the boards down off of it since we didn’t plan on staying for any length of time. Bunks lined the one wall and the end opposite the door, while a woodstove and small shelf/counter was against the remaining wall.
Two hunters, two guides and myself filled the cabin with our gear late in the day. Immediately after unsaddling and unpacking the horses and bringing the supplies and gear into the cabin, I set to work filling the woodbox with kindling for supper while the guides set camp to rights. Water was hauled and the fire in the woodstove was started. The wood was tough old balsam spruce, hard to split cleanly and was consistently soggy from the wet fall we were having.
Heavy gray clouds had shrouded the surroundings of the cabin when we had rode in and I didn’t get to see much of where the horses would be foraging for their supper. It was late in the hunting season and they had been used hard by now and were skinny and constantly hungry. There wasn’t much nutrition left in what grasses they could find in the scattered meadows amongst the tundra which often found them ranging a fair distance to feed. I was told this was a good place to find horses because there was decent food for them close to camp and that eased my mind somewhat.
After supper everyone tucked into their sleeping bags and soon the cabin was rocking with snores and farts. None of that bothered me, as I was dead to the world until just half-past four. As I came to consciousness, I could hear that now the cabin was rocking from a different sort of wind. The log walls were being buffeted on the outside and I could hear rain lashing against the window and the door. Already my heart rate was picking up and I tried to breath through the mild panic attack I was experiencing. I didn’t want to go out into that dark, hostile, unfamiliar territory, but soon I knew I would be.
My watch alarm beeped quietly under my ear and I silenced it quickly so it wouldn’t disturb any of the others. I didn’t appreciate being the only girl in a room full of men and having to fumble with getting dressed in the dark. Normally I had a pup tent to sleep in but the weather was getting too cold for that now and so I had to suck it up and join the men in the cabin.
I pulled my jeans out from under my sleeping bag where I had laid them out to sleep on so they would be warm when I pulled them on. One leg had flopped out and was damp and icy to the touch. Darn! Quietly as a mouse I gathered up my things that I had left in prearranged spots so that I could find them easily in the dark. I lit a stubby candle quickly so that I could pop my contacts in and then blew it out, the smell of candle smoke drifting across my nose.
Soon I was shuffling out the cabin with my rainsuit partially on over my insulated rubber boots. I needed to visit the privy, which happened to be a rail hung between two trees sitting-height from the ground. It was up the hill in a clump of balsams. No roof. No walls. Absolutely nothing to protect me from the driving sleet, as I sat with my bum hanging out over the rail. I cursed being a woman as I tried to pull my jeans back up over my wet cheeks and finished pulling the rest of my rain suit on properly. What was the point really? I was already wet underneath!
It was dark with just the faintest gray of morning starting to happen in the east as I headed down the hill from the cabin towards the meadows the guides had pointed out the night before. I strained my ears for the sound of horse bells, but the wind was howling strong enough I couldn’t hear a thing. I kept walking forward and my eyes caught a glimpse of horses bolting across my line of sight fifty yards away. They were agitated and my heart started hammering and my breath tightened like a band in my chest as I started running hoping to catch them before they decided to take off somewhere in the opposite direction of camp. I stumbled through willow thickets and swamp and found the horses in scattered groups of two or three. I began taking the chain hobbles off their prancing hooves. They were spooky that morning and one knocked the toque off my head with a knee; thankfully they didn’t knock me silly this time.
With lots of cajoling and shouting I managed to bring the horses to camp. One of the other guides was up and helped me finish bringing them in. We laid out piles of oats for each of the horses and then tied up the ones we would be using for the day and then saddled them.
By the time I was back in the cabin for breakfast, I was soaked to the bone and weary, a heaviness weighed down my spirits and I guess I wasn’t my usual cheeky self as the lead guide took one look at my face and told me to stay in camp. I argued briefly as this was a new area and I was excited to see the countryside as we were planning on only being at this camp for a few days. But he put his foot down and soon I was listening to fading laughter and creaking saddles as the hunters and guides left camp in search of a trophy caribou.
The day stretched out before me, long and empty. I don’t remember doing much other than sleeping and thinking. I found my thoughts spiraling down in a depressed fashion, which is sometimes the case with me if I don’t have much to keep myself busy with. Close to the time I figured the men would be coming back to camp, I started supper. As I worked by lantern light in the dark, gloomy cabin, I found myself humming an old hymn and soon I was singing every hymn and worship song I could think of at the top of my lungs. As I sang, I felt the heavy almost-smothering weight that had been tracking me all day lift and disappear.
Suddenly the cabin door burst open and one of the guides came in laughing at me, saying the sound of my wailing had guided them home. I was a little embarrassed that my singing had been so loud that I hadn’t even heard the sounds of 4 horses and men just outside the cabin walls unpacking for the day, but mostly I was just happy. The songs had lifted my spirits and boy was I ready to tackle going out with the hunters the next day––which turned out to be one of the sunniest, calmest and most radiant mornings I had had in a long time that fall.
Now I wanted to key in on a pattern I’ve noticed over the years. This is just one story in a long line that I chose to showcase how songs can lift one’s spirit, can turn back the darkness and can, I believe, in many ways vanquish evil.
I was reminded of how songs can really lift one’s spirits when I was reading a book called the Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken and how the author was interviewing believers in Christ who had lived through and for some, were still living through heavy persecution for their faith. Many times he noted that songs and singing had helped the believer to hold on to their faith and stay sane in harsh prison conditions. Not only did the songs help the believer but also their singing lifted everyone’s spirits and in some cases brought about miraculous circumstances.
As I was reading this, I was reminded of a few instances in my life where I was at an ultimate low, and a song was placed in my spirit and by making a joyful noise, I was able to beat back the darkness that was looming over me at that moment. No, I was not facing persecution for my faith nor was I suffering for Christ but I was struggling through a harsh periods of life in which my mind was open to what I believe was mental and spiritual attack. Please don’t take from this that singing is going to cure your depression! Trust me, when you are battling heavy depression you will need more than one type of weapon in your arsenal. What I want to suggest and point out is that music and songs can help in some situations to keep your mind focused on something other than what is trying to get you down or cause uncertainty, doubts or even darker more sinister thoughts.
If you are anything like me, the hardest part is to sing when everything in you is breaking or just completely broken and dead. Singing just feels like a sham or a betrayal. But I learned that sometimes you have to just START making a joyful noise and eventually it will become genuine in your heart.
Four years ago, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was struggling to just get out of bed and live each day. My second son was stillborn and I couldn’t seem to be able to find a reason to keep living, even though I knew I had them. I was fighting to keep going for my firstborn, but my spirit was so incredibly broken and I couldn’t find my way out of the darkness.
Someone who had experienced a similar heartbreak sent me a CD of worship songs. I had never met this lady, and yet she had pulled together a wonderful compilation of songs that just spoke to my heart. I found myself playing it over and over, sometimes as loud as it could go, to drown out all the thoughts spinning around in my head. If I found myself sobbing in the car I would crank up the CD I had put in. I found myself singing along, and the music would drown out the darkness with the words sung with my mouth and in my heart and in my mind. Every time, I found the will to carry on, by making a joyful noise. Of course, in those early days, I needed to also have the music on almost 24/7 to help drown out the darkness that kept trying to take over. Yet even now, I still find those moments when I need to have music on to turn my thoughts away from their downward spiral and I find myself with the urge to sing and sing and sing until the darkness goes away.
So, I would like to suggest that if you are dealing with depression or anxiety or fear, make yourself a playlist to put on when you can’t drown out the thoughts that threaten to overwhelm. Memorize songs, or hymns, because they will come to mind when you need them. They will be you’re the songs of your heart. If you know of someone who may be in a dark place, maybe make up a playlist CD for them. You never know, it may become a lifeline for them.
For me, the songs that worship God and point me to his love, his mercy and don’t focus on me, are by far the best ones to lift me up as they help me focus on Someone rather than myself. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Please share in the comments your favorite songs that lift your spirits! I would love to listen and add to my playlists!