I love silence, love to play with it, and run it through my ears like thread.
Here's Verlyn on two silences, on the sensitivity that allows a deeper receiving.
For the past week, I’ve been staying in northern Finland, just south of the Arctic Circle and a few kilometers shy of the restricted zone that marks the Russian border. This is the boreal forest, a place of almost surreal silence this time of year, when most of the birds have already migrated.
The first night I was here I stood in the middle of a bridge over a broad, slow-moving river that flows into Russia. It was dusk, a clear night, and I had come out to listen to nothing. There was no wind in the trees, not even the slightest breeze. The river below me was silent, and for the half-hour I stood there I heard not a sound.
I found myself checking, again and again, to see whether I had gone deaf. I popped my ears. I scuffed a shoe. I tossed a rock into an eddy along the river’s edge. I tapped the guard-rail with a knuckle. There was nothing wrong with my hearing. The human ear is not really meant for straining, and yet I was straining to hear. The silence felt more like an unnatural muffling of my senses than the porous stillness of the natural world, of which I was a part.
The next week I spent in and out of the forest, listening with my eyes, so to speak, and not my ears. It has been a cold, wet summer in Finland, a season filled with the sound of rain falling through the spruces and pines. All of the Finns I met grimaced when they talked about it, as if the summer had tasted like cold, weak coffee. But the past week has been dry, and every night there has been frost. The leaves are turning fast. A fog hangs above the river in the mornings, which only deepens the illusion of silence.
I say illusion because on my last night here, I went back to the bridge, again under a clear sky. There are long shadows even at midday this time of year, and dusk is still reluctant to give way to real darkness. As I stood there, I heard the faint, but quite audible roar of the rapids a half-mile downstream and around a great bend. Why had I not heard it that first night? The answer, I suppose, is that I was too busy not hearing the things I’m used to hearing, including the great roar that underlies the city’s quietest moments. It had taken a week to empty my ears, to expect to hear nothing and to find in that nothing something to hear after all.