Don't Speak

Silence as Nature

If a tree falls in a forest and no one's around to hear it, is it a waste of that peaceful silence? 

Birds, but not whitewater rafters. Breezes, twigs snapping underfoot, flies, only a certain amount of flies. Breathing on the inclines, the top to the water bottle, shoelaces, knots. Never engines, never planes, never ATVs. No buzzing, no sawing, no logging. No views interrupted by paragliders, commercial jetliners. Only certain types of talking at this point for looking out. Commenting, ‘oh wow’ from mountaintops. Checking for echoes by yelling ‘echo.’ Shouting out trail markers on the way back down. Single ‘hello’s and nods when passing other hikers.  Walkie-talkies, park rangers.

Wild animals. Calls, howls, chirps. The sounds of one life trying to locate others. Dogs? Wolves? There aren’t wolves. Are there? What would they eat? Deer. The critters you only hear when they move, when they want you to. Grazing, chewing, moving off, breaking eye contact. Something ducking into the water. The creek surface breaking. Babbling, running, rushing, trickling, dripping, collecting, falling water. Rapids. Springs. Drinking. Not paddling. No lazy river, pleasure cruise drifting by. Quiet lakefront. Nothing startling the fish. The herons stalking slowly in the shallows.

Peaceful. Undistrupted. Empty, meaning teaming. Meaning frog eggs. Meaning birds nests. Not 747s overhead. No parkways dividing the forest, giving the tourist something to look at. No backfires. No campfires. No people. Crickets. Insects crushed between palms. No one else.

This is solitude. This is seven hours in one direction. With no evidence cities even exist. Except a cellphone. And a signal. But you don’t want anyone to call you. To disrupt your aloneness. To join the quiet of the meadow. This neighborhood of prescriptive nothingness through which you are walking. Stopping in clearings to hear the wildlife go about its business. The quiet work of fieldmice and honeybees. On the list of things to hear, man and machine are evenly in line for last.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, is it a waste of that peaceful silence? Do you know the specifics of the swallow’s call? Do I? Does it matter? Or rather is it the impression of a forest full of song that leaves a mark? Is that what we go looking for?

Certain animals align with that idea of a nothingness, a somethingness, a soundlessness, a quiet presence, a wilderness. Trout catching mayflies. Herds on hilltops. Not cattle. Not animals for eating, skinning, milking. Meat animals. Wild animals. Ones you brag about seeing. Ones worth mentioning. More of what you came for. More of what is only here and not there, not elsewhere.

The sounds of their movements a sort of company. A sense of inhabitance. Some small critter breaking through the leaf litter. Gone in a flash of color. Barely registered with the eye, but caught by the ear. An accompaniment to walking. To acorns crunching underfoot. Rocks skittering. Lizards. Eagles crying. Wood pigeons taking off clumsily from treetops. Something crashing through deadwood, trying to get away and succeeding. Harmless, not raising a panic, not coming towards. Receding sounds, running sounds. Not following.

Identifiable sounds filed under all-encompassing nouns, such as ‘bird’ and ‘bug.’ The broad stoke identifiers. Also owls. Loons. Those found on cafe soundtracks next to compilations of celtic music and smooth jazz.  Ones that are associated with different times of day. Heights of grass. Regions. Weather patterns. Spring sounds, night sounds. A certain way rain falls when not on cement. When it has to find its way down from treetops, along leaf veins, freebase off branches.

Sounds you can’t find in cities, except on those CDs. Sounds that don’t pair with traffic and subways and apartment complexes. A sort that is left in nature. That is almost finite, restricted to nature. Never intermingling, only encroaching. Except when the occasional painted bunting deviates from its migration to stop the city for a minute.