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The Tenth Silence

Butterfly Wings's picture




 “Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”
Paul Goodman- “Speaking and Language”


There is a lot that can be said about nature. Poets and authors of all varieties have rambled for eons about its majesty. The real interest, though, lies in its silence, or rather its lack thereof. Nothing natural is ever quiet. There are always birds, always bugs, always wind, always something moving and brushing up close against your eardrums with little moth kisses, making a near imperceptible noise. There is very little more unsettling than a walk in the woods when the birds lose their voices. Nature brings a tenth sort of silence to the mix, one that Goodman misses out on. It is the silence of the mind and soul in the overbearing consistency of natural noise.

It was a mid-summer day, but we were in Nova Scotia, so it was colder than you would expect. I remember wearing my mom’s dark blue sweater. Despite the chill and grey clouds, my dad was determined that we make the most of our vacation. He was certain that any day could be a beach day if we tried hard enough.

We hopped in the car and drove out to Green Bay, one of our favorite beaches. It is a bit of a drive from the cottage we stayed at, but often well worth it for the tide pools. The ride itself was dreary; my younger sister and I sat curled up in the backseat, using our beach towels like blankets and loudly complaining about being forced to leave the cottage. We had wanted to watch “Aladdin”. 

The beach was somewhat less colorful than the cartoonish Agrabah marketplace. Fog had rolled in during the drive, blocking out the ocean from view entirely. My parents and sister wanted to go for a walk, but I stayed behind to look at the tide pools. I remember losing interest rapidly- the hermit crabs and periwinkles were all tucked away; it seemed like they were just as wrapped up and cold as me. I didn’t feel safe wandering out into the water with that much fog, so I sat by a puddle of rocks, somewhat impatiently waiting for my family to get back so we could finally leave.

It was while I was sitting there that I first realized what          could be. I had always been a solitary child, but I always sought to fill the         . I endlessly read books, watched movies, made up stories to fill the time. But the ocean’s waves put me in a trance. I was not trying to fill it; I was not forced to embrace it; the         was naturally there, and I actually Felt it, deep down inside of me. While I was sitting there, waiting, I started really listening to the ocean. It rumbled up, deep and loud and unending. The waves never stopped rolling- just continued to smooth and pull and add to the beach. The disjointed fawn hops of my mind could not outdo that sound. 

I was pulled out of myself, deeply isolated, but so deeply calm. It is like a cool cloth settled over your whole body, but you stay warm inside. The fog was solid white around me, and the sand was cool and dry. I was still aware of the feel of wind on my skin, but I was not cold. I was just peaceful and unable to think of anything else to say.

I do not know if it was moments later, or an hour later, but my family returned. Standing up again felt like there was a bowl of water balancing on my head. The ride home was quiet. When we got back, I sat on the cottage porch and looked at the ocean in the distance, tried to find that place again. But it was out of reach, too far lost in the sounds of my parents rattling plates and my sister singing Disney songs.

My               can be hard to find. It comes over me and fills me up like a cup of water. I cannot fill it myself. My            , real             , is not an absence of sound. The sea cannot be quiet, but it can force me to be quiet inside. My          is that tranquility of my mind.  It forces me to give up my story telling for enough precious moments to hlep me home in to who I really am and what I want to be.

It is a tenth type of              ; the            of the mind in the presence of nature. I argue it was not a “communion with the cosmos”, as Goodman might say. I did not feel that same give and take the water shared with the beach. To commune would require an exchange; I would need to be offering something of myself to the universe, to balance out what I take. What I felt, though, was a drinking in of that natural noise, a drowning out and removal of the clutter in my mind.  That is my                  .



“The words the happy say/ are paltry melody/ But those the silent feel/ Are beautiful-“ - Emily Dickinson, #1750



Anne Dalke's picture

What's the point of your telling this story? That we get so caught up in our heads that nature helps us be less self-centered; it's a really a celebration of the non-dialogic silence of the natural world.
There really is nothing in what we've read that gestures in this direction. That would be a possibility  then for your revision: that is, to argue that everything we've read so far is entirely anthropocentric: focused on humans and their relationships with one another--who is silencing whom? You are painting a picture of a much larger world, that isn't centered on human experience.

Cf. Gordon Hempton, "The Last Quiet Places": ; also Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human on “the multitude of semiotic life," how animals' varied interpretations of the world contribute to "a single, open-ended story" in which we all partake). Another resource would be this class that Rosa and I did together last spring; it's of course! on Serendip: /oneworld/ecological-imaginings-2015/sylla-ship-ecological-imaginings-spring-2015

You could start with Goodman's catalogue, as a way of naming the human-centeredness of what we've been doing...