Within each of us there is a silence—a silence as vast as a universe. We are afraid of it … and we long for it.
Gunilla Norris – In Inviting Silence
There are days when the sounds of civilization overwhelm us and our tired brains seek silence. Release comes easily to some, but for others the trinity of must, could and should floods their brains, constantly repeating, like a refrain caught in the groove of a damaged record. It is hard enough to block external noise, but inner silence is, for some, becoming an increasingly elusive commodity. While some find it through exercise or meditation, I was first able to achieve it in places where the gentle sound of wind and water lulled me to a state of mindfulness and inner peace.
Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other.
Shortly after my husband and I retired and moved to the Willamette Valley the name of a poorly marked turnoff lured us off the highway. We are fans of backroads and byways and often do this when we are driving and something catches our eye. The small sign, which you’d miss it if you blinked at the wrong time, was originally hand burned wood and consisted of a directional arrow and a name – Loon Lake. The name is what lured us up a narrow winding road. The road was sandwiched between a stream that fed the Umpqua River and a high forest bank. We had to stop at one point to move a small downed fir that was blocking the road and somewhere along the upward trajectory wondered aloud what we would do if an RV came in the other direction. Fortunately, it was mid-winter and ours was the only vehicle on the road.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
The Bureau of Land Managements operates a campground at the lake and there are private enterprises on the opposite shore. Nothing was open that winter and a low lying mist hung over the area, limiting our view of the lake. However, what we could see was achingly beautiful and when we heard the mournful wail of a loon join the symphony of gently lapping ripples and the wind blowing through the trees, this spot was forever etched in memory. We would come back over and over again.
True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.
And when we did it was as semi-permanent residents. For a period of time we rented a small weekend cottage, but friends, snowbirds we met at the lake, asked us to keep an eye on their property and we became winter caretakers of their home. Summers at the lake are family affairs and while they are great fun, the noise that fun generates is not conducive to reflection or meditation. Moreover, you would be hard pressed to find a loon on the lake while the campground is open. They quite sensibly head further north and wait for the winter to again come.
I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.
I have had many special moments here, but my favorite times are the inclement days of late winter when the eerie and mournful wail of the loon again lures me to the waters edge. At these times, the rain which can last for hours, beats a steady tattoo on the metal roof, and when the mists finally lift, gentle ripples expand and coalesce as they ruffle the glassy surface of the lake. While it is too early to mate, the loons who give this lake its name, communicate with one another, and as they land and skid upon the water, their mournful wails heighten the solitude and isolation of winter on the lake. While I consciously seek silence, this curious mix of birdsong, beating rain and the swaying of wind swept trees is not noise. While it may seem a contradiction, I find the mix to be a perfect silence that clears my mind and restores my soul. Our times at the lake are now limited but they remain a pleasant memory and the sounds of wind and water will never be forgotten.