Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

I sit on the bus in an auditory coma. The motor’s roar competes in magnitude with the blare of the heater. The latter is an omnipresent attack on my senses, both skin and ears, while the engine revs with irritating spasms in the rush hour traffic. Little can be heard beyond this clamour. I see people’s mouths moving in silent charades, bags shifting and feet walking but I am cocooned within a sound proof bubble, ironically made up of that from which it shields: sound. 

I recently listened to CBC’s Radio One Spark. Julian Treasure, one of the judges for the Most Beautiful Sound in the World contest, was being interviewed. He states: “…we are so surrounded by noise all the time that we’ve become … rather deaf, we don’t listen as much, we tend to suppress our awareness of the sounds around us.”

Sound is not something for which I yearn. Not that I desire to be deaf but I am sensitive, some might say overly so, to auditory vibrations. Certain sounds, even those of the most innocuous, can exhaust, startle and, even can scare me. I find the incessant sonance of incoming waves, for example, an irritant, and the soft tones of well meaning people draining. I prefer the quiet or, at most, subtle sounds that speak to all my senses. 

I had a friend once, many years ago, of whom I was half in love. She ate in a way that ignited my sensory synapses, but especially those of my hearing. The meal was simple: a dish of macaroni with smallish pieces of raw garlic, chunks of yellow butter and orange cheddar cheese on the side. Using chopsticks she ate with composed insouciance—picking up a piece of butter or perhaps cheese and laying it on the curve of pasta. She would ponder for a moment and then, as if on a whim, add garlic to the top. Her hands, long and delicate, directed her chopsticks with graceful moves, each scoop a smooth transition from plate to mouth. And the music: the soft chalky tapping of the wooden sticks; the almost silent melt of butter; and the sweet swoosh of breath, a sigh, as her tongue succumbed to the sensations. She ate each bite as if long without food, long without nourishing succor.

After all these years it takes a little bit of work to conjure up the colours and movement but I can still hear the music of this meal.

My most favourite sound, however, is that of an old growth forest. Each ecosystem has its own rhythm and there are three that I have discerned here on the west coast: the rainforest of the Douglas Fir, Red Cedar and Western Hemlock; the slightly drier Pine forests; and that of the higher elevations, the Yellow or Nootka Cedar groves.

The rain forest is the one I frequent most often. She lies, this complex eco-system, not far from where I live—no more than 90 minutes of hiking, albeit straight up. Hers is a full, almost pregnant silence that wraps around me like a warm shawl. There is safety in this quiet, yet almost energetic vibration. She speaks of fertility, and the magic thereof, and of the interconnective web that exists despite my solitary nature. 

The pine forest lies farther to the east, perhaps 100km or so, just where the Cascades divide the watersheds. There is a sharpness to her silence, a staccato resonance that perhaps reflects the drier climes or relatively sparse undergrowth. I am not overly familiar with her environs but I know the sound when I arrive. It has a certain clarity of being, a depth of understanding, that only my ears can discern. My brain, although not unkindly, is left aside in this communication. It is an almost willful innocence that allows me to graciously deny any need for comprehension. 

The third ecosystem is that of the ancient Yellow Cedar. High above Buntzen Lake is a grove of 1000 year old trees with cat tail moss, ag├ęd as the rocks below, suspended from their branches. I love to visit this forest when the clouds are low and the humidity high; when the flow of moisture laden life immerses with that of my own. The land here is filled with spirits so old, so inviolate, that communication is almost inconceivable. She demands stillness and reverence. There are no contemporary words for the silence of this forest:only an echo of what was; and a subtle reverberation of what may yet be.

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