November 6, 2009

The Splendid Quiet

It was hard to be calm at first, in the silence. The quiet here at night can be all encompassing, almost unrelenting. Sitting on the porch it is possible to hear fish jump in the dark water, an owl's wings as he lands in the pines. It is that quiet. Before moving here I would have not believed myself to be a person intolerant to silence. But, growing up on a street within a block of a high school, elementary school, and junior high, I became used to the constancy of sound. Lunch time at the elementary school yielded a ceaseless din. The high school echoed with bells and announcements. Band practices, soccer practices, football practice, Vanguard practices on the weekend. A life set to the omnipresent thunder of the drum line. Santa Cruz was not much different. On campus, the all-hours cacophony of college students, drum circles, quad protests. Off campus, the orchestra of sorority girls vomiting beneath my window, the incoherent proclamations of yet another intoxicated homeless man, the blip blip of rookie police officers sounding off on Laurel Street. Ever present sound.

I should not have been surprised to find myself unnerved by prevailing silence, but I was. The near constancy of sound in my life up to this point seemed unimportant until its absence. There are times, in this house, when I will hear the rumbling off board motor of a fishing boat across the channel and run to the window, convinced a convoy of motorcycles has thundered up the drive. In the absence of sound wind can be unsettling, the creaking of a twenty year old seaside home settling, rocking, enough to drive me from bed. To hear myself breathe every breath, uncomfortable.

I have accustomed myself to living in silence. The sound of my feet on the hard wood floor no longer surprises me, the sound of the phone no longer makes me jump. I do not rise in the night to suspiciously stare out the window onto the driveway, convinced I heard pebbles crunching beneath the tires of an sinister assailant's van. I do not leave the TV on to comfort me. Now, I seek it. I walk barefoot down the salt-worn planks of the dock at night and sit, feet dangling above brackish water, listening to the softest lap of the tide against the marsh. I listen to the Canadian geese at Hole in the Wall, all cackling and ruffling and honking as they set to rest. I lie back on the boards and watch satellites and stars and clouds moving in. If I leave here having accomplished nothing that I can hold in my hands or describe to another human being I think I can still be content. I will know that I came here afraid to hear myself breathe and left content to live in the quiet.

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