Sunday, August 31, 2008

Peace and Quiet

*Taken from my old fashioned, reliable composition notebook*

8-24-2008 10:15 PM
Lake Otatakan, Ontario, Canada

I took a walk out onto the pier after dinner tonight. It was a little bit chilly, but after I ran down to get water twice, I had to stop and take a closer look at what I had seen.

The sun was an hour below the horizon, but there was still a faint, barely perceivable glow to the northwest. The stars were out, and without the light pollution that plagues any place with a population denser than one person per square mile, they were abundant too.

But what was more striking was the stillness. The winds that have been confounding us in our boats this past two days had finally died out, COMPLETELY, leaving the lake calm and smooth enough to pick out the reflections of constellations in the sky.

As always, the beauty of an unmarred night sky struck me dumb -- two-fold, because of its mirror image in the lake. I stood stock still, then realized how quiet it really was. Living in the city... hell, even a town or a farm... there's always some noise or another shooshing in the background. I hadn't realized how much my brain regularly tuned out until just then. There were no waves breaking on shore, no wind in the trees and even the mosquitoes were silent, subdued by the late summer chill.

My heart caught in my chest, and I listened hard. Could this be absolute silence I was hearing, perhaps for the first time in my life?

I cocked my head, and the shift in my weight caused the floating dock to creak at each successive hinge, moving from me to the shore. A door shut within our cabin, the only building for ten miles, which was two hundred yards away from me. My own blood, feeling hot in the cold air, rushed through my ears.

I decided then I needed to experience real silence, even if just for a moment.

I lay down on my back and glanced again at the impressive display of stars, growing brighter by the moment, but I couldn't get distracted. It took a minute for the dock to stop moving, but the harder I listened, the more frustrated I got. It seemed like my stomach was sloshing and splashing as it digested dinner, and somewhere on my right arm, a bulging vein pulsed, pounding the rhythm of my heartbeat against the sleeve of my fleece.

I cursed my own body for being so loud and began taking slow, deep breaths to soften my heartrate and slow my metabolism. After a minute, I switched to shallower breathing, after a tiny rattle deep in my chest, the remnant of a summer cold I thought I had kicked, became the loudest sound I could hear.

I don't know how long I lay there like that. As my pulse slowed and my blood pressure fell, I had only the tick of my wrist watch at twenty second intervals to tell time.

And then, between one of those intervals, it happened. Silence! I allowed myself a flicker of self-recognition to celebrate, then closed my eyes to block out the noisy stars and sample the sensation in its purest form.

No light. No sound. My other three senses fell away like crutches, and I was left in a maddening, howling, lonely vacuum that was really quite pleasant at first, if overwhelmingly awe-inspiring. I strained to draw out the experience so I could come to terms with it, but that was about as easy as accepting eternity.

The thought crossed my mind, "This is what the universe was like before the Big Bang happened 16 billion years ago." It's no wonder a god would set things off into motion, he or she couldn't take it. Even if god is more of a force, a balance, than a sentient being, the Big Bang must have happened just because a whole lot of something was needed just to spite the nothing.

A water pump grumbled to life near the lake's edge, and I opened my eyes. Half a mile across the water, some creature (presumably a moose) grunted in a hooting, plaintive bark three times.

Each time, it echoed from the trees at each bank, caroming from shore to shore and traversing the entire lake. Then, it was quiet again. The silence didn't bother me, but I coughed, experimentally, three times in response. As I listened to it echo around me, I realized for the first time that for me, god and that moose, when presented with all that nothingness, it just felt good to fill it with something.


Anonymous said...

"Hey, neighbor"

This post made me smile. You're a fantastic writer, although I'm not surprised in the least, in your line of work.

Dustin Christopher said...

Thanks, Tracy! Now I'm all self-conscious! :)