Does it ever exist in a pure form? If we are not deaf, can we really experience it? If we are deaf, do we really experience it at all? I cannot answer for the deaf. Their response may depend on the level or nature of their deafness. It may be that, for it to truly exist, one must have never heard words to have them become thoughts. For the hearing, however, I do not believe it exists. We are only familiar with its silhouette, the mere image of its self. This shadow is what we call “silence.”
When it appears that there is nothing present to stimulate our hearing, when we would normally say we are in the presence of silence, something creates a sound. Even when it is just our thoughts, fears, imagination, or blood coursing through our lobes urging a tingling hum, true silence is not there. Its image, however, is a normal part of our lives.
Sometimes, it enters with a sly, tiptoe step; other times, it is so vivid, one would think it is the resounding tromp of a platoon of soldiers. Casual circumstances, anticipated events and unexpected tragedies are all tinged with silence.
Walk with me…into the penumbra….
Overhead, the loudspeaker commanded certain somebodies to go or come to such and such station on the third floor. Swinging doors crashed open and closed, before and behind her. The gurney banged into the delivery-room table, jarring her through the pain, making her wonder, again, if this was all worthwhile.
A multitude of thoughts sped through her mind while she was lying there, exposed with disregard, looking up at the ceiling, pushing, breathing, hurting, waiting. But what about during that pause in her heart’s beating, in that long silence before the doctor spoke, what was she thinking then? Did that interminable moment incubate the seed of anguish or jubilation?
Agitating the silence was the lazy humming of the overhead lights, the clanging of instruments into stainless-steel bowls, the beeping of the baby’s monitor and the rustling of paper gowns. It seemed to go on forever. The silence was too long.
The doctor was quiet, he didn’t say a thing; he just worked. With swift, confident hands he untied the cord from their baby’s neck. Still the silence, a moment more. Did she dare breathe when her child had yet to take his first gasp of air? Could she live if he didn’t?
Finally…the tiny cry! “He’s fine – you’ve got a little boy!” Happier words were never spoken!
He was just standing there, trying to be someone or something that she needed, telling her how beautiful their baby was, how beautiful she was, asking her, awkwardly, how she felt. Snap-shot photographs of the last several months crashed through his mind as he watched with awe, this orchestration of birth. Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his cheeks. The silence was over!
For the last two months of his life, he would have spells where something inside of him would cause him to cry out, almost scream with a nameless pain. At first, they thought it was probably kidney-stones; then, they thought it might be his hips getting worse – they had known for years that they were bad.
Their veterinarian was businesslike in his description of a not-so-uncommon immune-disorder that affects older dogs. This miracle-worker for animals went on to detail the possibilities of tumors, intestinal bleeders, etc., that could be causing the myriad problems.
After their dog was on mood-altering, immune-system-enhancing medications for about four or five weeks, they came home one day to find the evidence of internal bleeding in several locations throughout the house and yard.
One more trip to the vet. One last trip to the vet. The doctor explained how there was really nothing he could do to fix their dog. There was nothing he could do to restore sound health to this old man of a canine they called their pet. It was time for him to go on – to go wherever it is that old dogs go when they die. After that last injection, that last yelp, that last beat of his heart, he just lay there. He was gone.
Normal sounds of life still ring throughout their home. The children and the other animals are still there; the planet hasn’t ceased its orbit; life still goes on, but…it is quieter than it used to be. He doesn’t follow the man up the stairs or down the stairs, out into the yard or around the yard and back into the house again. He’s not there waiting for a morsel to drop to the kitchen floor, not there to nudge a hand for some love. No longer is he heard breathing, lying next to the bed at night. They still step over his sleeping form when they get out of bed, but he’s not there. He is gone. Except for the quaking in his master’s heart, he is silent.
One could describe her life as very busy. There was seldom time for her and her husband to be alone. Hell, there was rarely a minute that she had to herself without interruption, without someone or something demanding her attention. Managing a house-full of children and pets, attending the university with a full schedule and perfect grades while holding down a full time job required an enormous amount of time. A full life. One with many facets. One with many colors. A life with many concerns.
Not a torment, but a near constant preoccupation with the deeper, heart-wrenching aspects of other people’s lives filled her mind. The lives of children. Not only her own kids, but the rest of them too. The ones whose lives were documented in the newspapers and chronicles of the day. Children whose lives were put to paper in big binders with case numbers attached to them. Innocent ones whose lives were casually thrown away by the give-a-damn adults who ran the world. These were the ones who filled her mind.
Most disconcerting to her was the fact that she could not do much for these children at the time. She still had to finish school. Until it was over, she was bound to her current occupation. Nowhere else could she make the kind of money she did and nowhere else could she have the time off from work to do the things she wanted to do. Essentially, she was indentured to her meaningless, mindless, of-no-consequence job. She would continue to be a flight-attendant until she had reaped every possible benefit from the company while pursuing her goal; until school was over.
From her occupation, one would be inclined to think that she liked dealing with people. One would think she was a people-person. One would also think she enjoyed the hundreds of faces and personalities she ‘mingled’ with every day at work. One could not be more wrong. She thought people were okay in the right setting, but not in those amounts and not in the confines of an airplane.
Where is refuge when one is inside a Boeing 737, traveling at 535 mph, at 35,000 feet? Where does one hide from the constant analyzing, discriminating and stereotyping eyes of everyone aboard the plane? Where does one go to flee the leering eyes of half-drunk, red-blooded males? Where does she go to escape? She locks herself in the bathroom. In that closet-sized hideaway, she finds solace from the airborne hundreds. She mutters oaths at the closed door and cries tears of anger and frustration in the company of her only friend, the woman in the mirror looking back at her. Aboard the plane, locked in the bathroom, she finds it. It has been there waiting for her. It removes her from the meaningless chores and takes her home, if only for a few minutes, where she is important, where she is loved. In spite of the engine noise and the storm of people on the other side of the door, it is there. She has found her silence.
They arrived on a Thursday afternoon in the last week of January. Nobody answered their knock at the door, but they knew where the extra key was hidden, so they let themselves in and made like they were home. In a sense, they were. This was where she had spent the last several years of her childhood and this was where they had started their courtship. Now, this was their haven from the adult world. They felt safe here. It was always a pleasure to come home after being away.
He went to visit some friends for a while and she stayed there with the kids, recuperating from the trip. After a bit, her sister came home from school and there was the usual heartwarming reunion that made the long drive worthwhile. It was so good to be home!
An hour or so later, he came home and went out to the shop to put together some toys that her mom had bought for the kids. Meanwhile, the older son was out in the acre, beyond the walled-in back yard, playing with his trucks. The younger son was following her and her sister around the yard and house, visiting and wondering at all the things that fascinate two-year-olds like himself. The phone rang and she and her sister went inside. In what may have been minutes later, the older son called from outside the gate for his dad to come and let him into the yard.
Leaving the shop, where he was still working on the toys, he noticed the big-wheel floating upside down in the pool. He let the older son into the yard and then went to see if he could reach the toy – floating out there, near the middle of the pool. He noticed that the big-wheel was just sitting there, upside down, not moving and not causing even the slightest ripple in the water. Just sitting there. Suddenly, everything was quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something floating near the opposite side of the pool. Not something, but someone, a very small someone, face-down in the pool.
Rushing to the other side, he noticed again the stillness of the pool. How long had his little one been there? What period of time would it have taken for the water to calm after he had ridden the big-wheel into the pool? How many minutes had his son been floating there in that god-damned silent pool? Where was the noise that water is supposed to make when someone falls into it? Why didn’t he hear the silence of the big-wheel? Why in the hell wasn’t he watching his son?
No! What would he do without his son? It wouldn’t be the same. Life would never be the same. No! He couldn’t die! He fought the numbness in his mind and began to do what he’d studied so many times in the past. Just last month he had taken a refresher course and he specifically remembered not to breathe too hard into his baby’s mouth. Pounding on his back as if there was something stuck in his throat, he cursed and prayed for him to come back. God, how long did this take? Over and over again, breathe into his mouth, not too hard. Push onto his tiny chest. Now flip him over and pound on his back some more. Come on! Breathe! Please, come on! Yes! Cry! That’s it! That’s it! Breathe! Come on – that’s it, cry, come on! Damn the silence – Cry!
The excitement of graduation night paled somehow in comparison to the spectacular event that would take place the next morning. She and her family were going up north for a vacation and they had asked him to go with them. Each of her sisters was bringing a special friend – and she invited him, her special friend. The trip was a graduation present from her parents. As a family, they had been to the lake several times in the past, so they knew he would enjoy it.
They left home early in the morning, hoping to reach the lake with enough daylight remaining so they could work on the boat when they got there. In return for letting them borrow the houseboat, her mom’s boss had asked them to replace the carpet and fix some things that needed to be repaired.
The six-hour drive seemed to pass in less time than it actually took. New scenery and friendly conversation caused the miles to slip away without notice. Before he knew it, they arrived at the lake-town, located the boat and started to work.
With all of the work completed and only an hour of daylight remaining, they set off to find a suitable spot to spend the night. When they pulled away from the marina he turned around and looked at the sky. It had been brushed with magnificent hues of orange, yellow, rose and gold. This sunset would have made the sun-god proud.
The whole experience was an adventure to him. In his seventeen years he had never been on a vacation with anyone other than his own family. Now, he was there, at the lake, with his girlfriend and her family preparing to enjoy one of the most memorable events of his life – ten days on a houseboat with absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy life and its offerings.
Their days were filled with leisure. They would cruise through the waterways of the lake’s filled canyons staring in awe at the massive boulders and rock lining their passage. At different times of the day, they would pull over to the bank, tie up the boat and go hiking. Climbing the rocks to the highest point they could reach and then just sitting there, admiring it all, wondering at the forces that combined to create such a marvel. Other times, they would get out the inflatable rafts and go off by themselves, paddling along, enjoying the theater of nature before them. Whatever they wanted to do, they did. Sleep, eat, drink or swim. Whenever they wanted to do these things, they just did them. No schedules were allowed.
One of the best things about the whole trip was the time the two of them had together. Uninterrupted, they could talk for hours. If there was nothing else to say, they would sit in the quiet splendor of their retreat and simply be together. Saying nothing, just being together. Near enough to touch, near enough to feel each other’s spirit within them. A time of true communion.
At night they would lie next to each other on the roof of the houseboat and watch for stars shooting across the sky. They felt as if they were in a cathedral, looking up past the darkness of the canyon walls to see the ceiling of stars overhead. It was truly a magnificent sight. The greatest artist ever commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling would have balked at the thought of trying to recreate the incredible brilliance of this heavenly portrait.
To say it was quiet on the lake would be an understatement. Barring all other experiences from their memory, this place would be the origin of silence. There were no clocks or schedules on the lake. There was no screaming society telling them what to do and when to do it. Silence ruled…and because it ruled, they were free.
Once again, I do not believe true silence exists. For a hearing person, I do not believe there is a condition possible where there is absolutely no sound. We can only recognize the shadow of silence, its image. Whether it is tarnished or golden, blatant or subtle, mediocre or spectacular, the silhouette is what we call “silence.”
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.
The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City was built from blocks of white granite that were “mined” from a “quarry” near the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon, just south and east of the city. When I imagined what a quarry might be, I pictured a huge hole in the ground, or at least a huge scar on the rocky side of a mountain. The blocks for the temple were actually carved out of boulders that fell from the mountainside in the canyon. I’m not advertising for the Mormons or the beautiful architectural feat of their showcase temple, I am, however, sharing the natural beauty of the place where this people gently obtained what they needed to build it.
You can see a boulder in the very bottom and center of the picture that came from the mountain above.
It’s probably easier to see the size of the boulders that were used from this picture than the last one.
Frozen waterfall from the snowmelt on the side of the mountain. There’s not normally a stream there, so I imagine it’s just from the melting snow on a few warmer days.
This is the snowy canyon at the base of the mountains. The creekbed/streambed is in there somewhere…not running now, but frozen and diverted further up the canyon.
It’s crazy what the fog does when it freezes on the branches and poles…beautiful crazy….
Took this at the end of the hike…heading toward early afternoon and the winter sun was just creeping over this part of the Wasatch range…beautiful.
Go Sun Devils!
Some photos from the past couple weekends – last Sunday it was sunny and over 50 degrees, this weekend it was snowing and in the 30′s…and still beautiful. We had to stop a few times during the hike just to absorb it all. After having lived in the desert for the past 20-some years, it is still incredible that we are here with the mountains in our backyard. Enjoy….
Life changes as it does and sometimes brings with it a peace that goes beyond words. My new home and new environment have returned my soul to the place where it was born. It is not the same locale where I fell in love with the outdoors, but the geography and essence are the same. Gone are the big city and desert…and here are the mountains…and peace restored. These are some of my new favorite places:
I set out early and found that the sun was already risen and over the far ridge by the time I got out onto the trail. Although I had passed the trail-head probably half a dozen times or more, I had never been this particular way before. A steep path and rocks and scrub oak with their tiny, shiny acorns greeted me and caused me to wonder at the endurance that I had only a few weeks ago when I could and would play racquetball for three hours at a time. The intense climbing soon had my lungs and legs burning as I continued up the trail. Above and beyond me, the foothills and mountains rose in their way, causing a beautiful backdrop of scenery for my hike.
By the time I seriously needed a breather and had reached a relatively flat stretch in the trail, I came across and older man who was also catching his breath and admiring the view. We greeted each other cheerfully and commented on the hike and the scenery. He asked me how far I was going and I responded that I didn’t know yet. I’d never been on the trail before, I told him, so I was just going to walk until I needed to come back. We stood there for another five minutes or so as he told me the names of the reservoirs I would encounter on the trail, which way to turn if I wanted to go to such and such a place, etc. After another couple of minutes of talking about the area and the trail, he introduced himself to me by name and said it was nice to meet me…on a hike out on a trail in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Utah.
We parted ways and I continued on my morning hike. I soon found the first reservoir the man had mentioned and took the easternmost trail that skirted the lake and was up against the gaining mountain. I sloshed through the soggy, rich black earth and new grass and then found the dirt and rocky trail that led off and into the forested heights onto and along the mountain.
As I marched up and down the trails and looked at the hills and mountains around me, always searching for a good spot for a photo, I thought about my life and family and choices and preparations and how I would share with my Little One how to find the words to describe his feelings when he was alone or amazed or overwhelmed by whatever life was bringing him.
I thought about perspective and problems and turmoil and how the squirrels left behind a pile of shredded leaves and husks after they got the seeds out of a pine-cone. I pondered the folding of the mountains into cups and ridges and rocky slabbed sides on their ever reaching heights. I thought about pleasures in life that remain and don’t, about what today is and has been in the past several years, and about what the future holds for me and my family. I thought of those words again that I’d share with my Little One that come from the core of our being and know pain and suffering and joy like the heights of these mountains, of a close communing with the heart of a loved one, and the peace that comes sometimes when looking out over mountain ranges that help define perspective.
And then I remembered the words of a friend of mine when he said, “Climb a beautiful mountain for me.” Here you are, Sir Byron. And thank you.
Time to kill…time to spend, actually…nourishment for the soul…eye candy for nature lovers….
This is where you’ll find me….
Remember the road less traveled…?
And the bridge to your future…?
I have found my bridge….
What’s in your back-yard?
I sat inside the steel and glass monstrosity and watched the people walking past. Everyone was going somewhere. They were returning or leaving and found themselves all there, as I did, waiting or having waited. We were dressed in our fineries, or not; we were in a hurry, or not. Our faces held an eagerness or impatience with too little time, or we were in a set and staid complacency, as we had surrendered ourselves to wait. Patience was no longer needed. We just were and our time would come as it had for the rest.
I looked out through the large windows and beyond the technology that was in the foreground, beyond and beyond the miles between here/there and the object of my gaze. A few hours earlier, I was out and among the mountains and streams, walking down earthen pathways that were wet with life and rich and gray and sandy and mulched and fine, and trees of every and sundry sort shaded my walking and allowed, too, the sun to shine on my pathway, to illuminate the great undergrowth and broad leaves and needles, nettle-like weeds of slight and fine stalk and stem and little branches and huge, fallen and leaning and upright in their rotting and decay. Life was full and birds drifted and alighted sometimes and not, and the stream/river crashed over rocks and boulders and ran into side pools in their clean-ness, the large mess of aquamarine and clear and green and blue and white in its rushing and crashing in tons and gallons and my heart and soul wanted to stand there and stay there forever, being fed as they were with a food or nourishment so strange and beautiful and foreign to my desert-living self. The greens were rich and lush beyond the holding of our dreams and the air was fresh with some kind of natural perfume, a fragrance wrought in the heady blooms of wildflowers and shrubs that found their anchors or homes in shaded caves and coves beneath large and tall pines and firs and oaks and cottonwoods and aspens. I don’t know if I had ever seen streams or rivers running down the sides of mountains before that day, but I had now, or then, on that day, twice even, in their similar crevices or ravines among the rocks and tree-lined and covered mountain, a green sheet or blanket of trees covering that rich and fertile whatever with those ribbons of white and clean ice-cold foaming and bubbling tide that crashed over hundreds of yards from their beginnings in the craggy heights above.
If this land were to be my home, would all of this cause me to be happy? Would it continue to nourish my soul when I was pressed and oppressed by life and money and the nothingness of work? Would all of this add meaning to my temporal existence and make-up for areas that I felt were lacking? Would I be fulfilled, or would it make me want to escape that much more? Would its nearness make me yearn to leave hearth and home to be among the boulders and trees and rivers and deer and snakes and squirrels? Would I crave their company more than others’? Would I be drawn inside and away from those in my surround, seeking the company of myself over them – seeking the company of myself and away over them? Or would they seek this hideaway from the everyday and nourish their arid souls here, too? Would they treasure this natural sanctuary as I would and want to be in its raging stillness as I would and be so comforted in their awe and treasure it beyond words, taking refuge, as I would, in its splendor and remove? I hope they would….
The pictures speak for themselves…really….
From a place that stirs the soul….
A haven for a troubled heart….
An escape, again, from the everyday….
Where worries are washed away with the silt….
From the little ones….
To the imponderable ones….
They all just wash away….
And the release is gentle, nourishing, restoring balance…
The stuff of life….
To go away on a whim, to escape from the everyday, to be in your day-dream, that other place…
To go down those hidden pathways…
To cross those challenging bridges…
To find that place deep inside…
To free yourself from the turmoil within…
And then to look to that far horizon where you find your oft and distant dreams…
There is that other place, that other realm, that inside curve on the edge of a hidden thought in a different something where the conscious mind travels to and from, migrating there and back as moments allow, as lucid instances of concentration escape their purposeful attachment to what is at hand and demanding a sorted and sort of focus and attention. Imagination and day dreams intersperse the required attentions and monotonous happenings between the wonderings of either and when, running clock and otherwise in free-falling moments of risk and fantasy and desire and what-ifs and then. The phone rings or a person is suddenly there, materializing out of their own thoughts, instantly demanding something of a mind and consciousness that is traveling on another plane, living and wandering in a place that is unattached to the present, existing in a future that is unknown and daunting and hopeful and defined in a dreamscape of glowing mountains and rippling streams and greens that exist in the artist-philosopher’s imagination as possibilities in another world, or a perfect one, or in another dimension in his thought or mine. To exist in that other place and time, to live within or among those other boundless boundaries that define what isn’t yet, but longed-for…this is what fulfills and informs the moment…this is the spirit or soul that treads the paths of the wandering mind…maybe….
The boy, John, sat beneath the aged, black-barked mesquite tree and pressed his knees together to keep from pissing himself. Burning cramps tore into his bladder as he fought with determination to stem the flow of hot urine. Tears streamed down his dirt-smudged face and carved miniature riverbeds through the powdered clay. He spied a tiny black ant crawling up his tattered shin and flicked it away. Bloodied eyes sought the thing in the sand, looking yet to snub its life. “Six legs and three body parts of thin plastic,” he thought, “they kinda smell like…crushed ants”…acrid taste when he licked his fingers. More ants scurried about smelling the stink of one of their own dead. He picked-up another and used his pocket knife to slice off its head. The ant’s jaws’ opening and closing stopped a few seconds after the legs ceased in their final crawl into the dark unknown. Mesquite pods lay around the boy, snapping in the heat, revealing black-brown beans. Sweat mingled with tears, angry teeth grated enamel, fillings, and stolen raisins. Beating wings, doves and pigeons fleeing his thrown rocks, splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat.
In the house, the drunken man looked absently at the marks that John’s teeth had left on his knuckles. The sodden eyes twitched unsteadily as one red gash blurred into three and then one and then two. He shook his head violently and shoved his curled fist in front of his eyes and used his other hand to steady the shifting one so that he might better analyze the damage. “Lil’l fucker,” he slurred. “Lil’l FUCK! Where’r you? Where’r you, godDAMit?”
Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody can do anything. There is nobody. Fat bastard beats his face every day…kicks his ass. Fucking ribs are torn from their moorings and his goddam wrist must be broken again. He cried in a pain that echoed off his thoughts of murder and death. What he wouldn’t do to kill that fucker! Damn pickle bucket cut his cheek today. The coffee-can is gone. An evil beats in his head like a foul pulse coming from a putrescent heart. He can only see a haze as he wonders if it can be stopped in time. A scourge is teeming on an unknown edge as he contemplates faraway sounds. The dirt smells like rust, metallic blood, ocher. Hate.
Anger breathed into itself, a prominent, forceful being whose dictates reigned. None other stirred or dared to resist its call. He spoke as king in his court, an unruly sovereign who spread grief and malice with every uttering; strife. No thought but for the self.
Seconds and minutes wound into each other as he listened to the bean-pods snap in the heat and…he wondered where he would be if he could crawl inside the tick of a passing second. How far inside a second could he crawl if one of them would stand still and allow him inside? And in that small space, where would he get in? “Is there some kind of door or a squiggly mirror kind of thing that I’d have to step through to get inside? And is it really a ‘tick’?” he thought. Was there some real thing that kept one second separate from another one?
Would anyone care to look for him? If they discovered what he’d done, they’d have to rewind all the hours and minutes and seconds that had passed around him and then find the one second that he crawled into. Then they’d have to figure out how to open it like he did. And once they were inside, they’d stumble around in its eternal dark, searching blindly for the clues of his passing.
The boy, John, slowly drove the knife blade into his wrist, piercing skin and vein and tendon and scraping sideways against the bone, he pressed down and in and pulled up and sideways along…eyes closed and jaws clamped shut, squinting against the pain and rush and then. “Let me go,” he thought. “All I need is the right second, and I’ll be gone.” One passed, and then another, and another…. His aching bladder relaxed as those and his seconds and minutes passed…and his urine flowed hot and fast and slow and gone and darkened his pants and soaked the dust and dirt and shadows…. “Just let me in,” he whispered, “Please…just let me in….”
The ants’ tiny feet were red and sticky and caught the dust and sand as they walked to and fro under the shade of the ancient, black-barked Mesquite tree…among the heat-burst bean pods…as the sun beat down on the splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat. The pigeons and doves returned and then…skittering, bobbing…wings flapping and away and back…and settling the dust and the ants walking to and fro….
There are hideaways in this desert world. They must be searched out or stumbled upon by chance, but they are there. Sequestered locales against time and her demands are tucked away amidst the crush of life, safe havens to cushion our occasional fall. Quietude and rest after a storm, the breeze laced with a fine scent of creosote. The air, now pure from her cleansing, is free from the residue of our modern advances. Gone are the particles and emissions of our progress.
The primary element of our being and the nest of our origin, offering and return, withdrawal and offer again. Standing on this littoral plain, I feel the tugging on my soul; my being is drawn nearer to the mother of life. Filling my ears are the whispers and stirrings of her core. In her arms there is peace.
All that flies against me in every day is gone, with only her stirring presence around me. Crashing waves and the gentle tide, purging the shore and offering her rest. Salty mists are her kisses, the waves are her liquid embrace, all consuming, touching everywhere, a healing salve to my weary soul.