The silence is the liturgy for the reverence of nature now, as everything slows with the cold season but cannot cease.
Foot traffic and spinning wheels, happy voices and quarrelsome, shopping carts squealing and shoppers distracted by super sales – all these inescapable sounds of the holiday season have begun.
But I have fled to the forest and stride out over the open fields at dawn, just to remember the quiet – or the cacophony of life on nature’s terms. The sunrise, the slightest blush on the horizon, seems to have an almost acoustic quality to its beauty, perhaps because of the internal song of joy it awakens.
The high winds and searing cold are the sharpest, sweeping sounds the ear is capable of absorbing right now, but I avoid them for the time being, letting the rustle and thump of the wood stove, and the whisper and gurgle of the kerosene heater suffice for music, while I thread the sewing machine in near-silence and wait for the drop-click of the pressure-foot dropping and the steady hum of the motor. I would rather move into the holiday stitch by stitch, on my own terms, crafting something useful if I can with the least, last threads of my time.
Indoors or out, I am concentrating on creation now, the material sphere or the realm of the imagination worth saving, since – all else aside for a moment – redemption and resurrection are what the season announces, how there is a broken world worth saving and a new generation to embrace.
No one needs to tell us the world is fractured; what we need is reassurance that something that we can do – or do without – will matter in the shape of things to come.
I keep trying to think what counts, what counts? And, as if for an answer, in my mind’s eye, I witness over and over again, the sight of a white-tailed deer, a doe, rambling on the two-lane, back country road leading home, as though she had lost her way and was haunting the intersection, hoping for a familiar scent in the wind or some sign of safe passage.
I feel that way too, sometimes, as though the landscape I have known has become suddenly unknown, forgotten, foreign. But like the doe I watched in the dark, as she paced on long thin legs and powerful haunches in circles, trying to recover her orbit, her path, I remember what a lifetime has taught: Keep moving, one foot in front of the other, until the way becomes clear.
For the way does open, and the view emerges as though a precious memory. Here, it is the sign in a twig, singed with ice, or the message in a handful of leaves frozen in the bottom of an old clay pot, as though purposefully, because their color and configuration perform a symmetry for anyone watching.
This is the harmony to hold onto, I tell myself, as I step off the porch, Thanksgiving at my back and the new year far ahead, a world away, it seems, what with the hurry and expectation hanging in the air.
I am capturing internal photos this year, images in my mind, splices of beauty to record in words or images or notes of sound – any particular sense I am able to focus long enough and clearly enough to capture one of the billions of trivial, overlooked miracles of the natural world, outshining the complex trinkets of human enterprise.
I need this, you see, the clarity of creation, to keep me on track, and to remind me why I am here. This is why I am listening to the silence, waiting for messages from the few restless birds in the briar or the skittering presence of chipmunks in the leaf-fall.
Indoors, I still can light a lamp or fuel a fire to keep me warm. I still know how to satisfy the unrelenting winter hunger or quell its dread.
But out here, in the cold that amplifies every stirring and makes each moan of branch on branch a call from the heavens, I am holding as still as a yearling instructed in survival. I will make myself an insignificant part of an essential landscape, in which, with time enough and will, I would be lost forever, and at long last, found.
North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325 or at: