IN THE SYLVAN STILLNESS
October 17, 2011
Early morning. It is quiet when I step into the woods. Mist clings to the hollows and gulleys, lingers on the high bluffs like fairy breath. Wisps and tendrils rise from the ravine below me and the pond swirls with smoky plumes and curlicues that seem like steam from a kettle filled with boiling water. Yet the pond is glassy and serene, with pastel greens pulsating off the surface as if the pond was waiting to be released from some magical spell so that it could turn blue as a distant ocean it could only dream in its slumber.
I find my regular perch above the pond and sit down in the hollow bowl of dirt nestled at the foot of an oak tree. A pair of 6X30 binoculars dangle from my neck. I am not ready to bring them to my eyes and adjust the focus. For now, it is enough to sit on the edge of dawn and listen as I gaze downward at the wispy cobwebs of the sleeping pond.
There is a silence.
That silence becomes a hush as I hold my breath and listen for any sounds in the forest around me.
Is there only this silence? Or is this just a temporary hush?
Is there any difference?
Perhaps there is such a thing as a hushed silence. I wonder.
I wonder if there can be silence without such a thing as sound. And is this hush, this deep silence, a sign that nature is holding its breath just as I hold mine?
I realize then that there are different silences, just as there are different sounds.
This forest hush, this sylvan stillness, is just the silent wake I have left behind me when I walked into the woods. I can almost hear its faint ripples as they float across the earth and disappear into the ghosts of lavender shadows. They leave a hush on the borders of my small world, a hush that fills me with a peace beyond measure. I let out a slow stream of breath and cannot hesr it. My breath was swallowed up in the silence, washed away in the riverine hush that flows through me and around me.
I look at the thin smokes rising above the pond and dissipating in the pale glow of the windless morning. They evaporate in some mysterious way and perhaps wend their way skyward to begin their embryonic life as cloudlets, like the vanishing dew that leaves no trace of their jeweled existence on the grasses and bushes and leaves as light begins to measure pathways through the woods and onto the musty emerald hue of the glazed pond.
This, then, is another silence, before anything hearable stirs, before the auditory nerves are tickled by the scratch of a squirrel’s foot on the bark of an oak tree, or the faint whap of a crow’s burnished velvet wing as it takes flight from a nocturnal perch, or the explosion of a bass from that serene pond as a dragonfly skims through the misty columns of foggy structures rising like ghostly snakes from a charmer’s basket.
That is the silence on tiptoe, a silence leaning toward my ears in soundless anticipation. I feel it crouch next to me and then it settles within me until I am stone deaf, with eyes as big as marbles, straining to see what will break that stillness, that profound stillness that occurs before the birth of that first sound.
This is the silence I have waited for, the silence within a silence, the silence that not a hush, but a total absence of all sound. I cannot hear my heart beat, nor my breathing. This is a silence that is like the silence of Eden before Adam stepped into it. This is the silence of the void before the universe exploded into being.
This is the silence I would want to hear when I go into the dark woods on my final journey, the silence that produces the inner peace that is beyond all understanding.
That silence is the first silence and the last silence. It is fleeting, but forever buried in human memory, like these Ozarks woods, like this Eden and that first one, the Edin of Sumer, which blossomed so long ago and so far away.