cities, noise, silence… This weekend I spent the day visiting a new friend who lives outside of Austin on the Pedernales River. She has a beautiful place, and it reminded me how much I miss when I am living in the city. In particular, I miss silence. It is so easy to not think about silence, because in the city you are always, always surrounded by sounds. The next morning was a Sunday and it was quiet for the city. And yet, the difference was stunning. To me, the difference between a man-made quiet and a natural quiet is stark.
Several years ago I was backpacking in the Redwoods, which is a place of unbelievable silences. We had come there from several days of backpacking on the coast, and the difference was stunning. It was so different that the silence was almost erie on our first night sleeping in the redwoods. That feeling didn’t last long. The redwood forests are one of my favorite places on earth now. Later I wrote this piece to describe how I felt.
Living Among Giants
It’s a calm summer evening and sunlight is filtering sideways through the immense columns of the forest. Far above, the canopy breathes a silence that settles across the ferns like a hush of reverence in the halls of a cathedral. All is still except for the specks of dust that are circling through two hundred foot tall shafts of light.
It’s no surprise that this forest feels like a cathedral. The thousand year-old redwood trunks rise from the ground like living extensions of the Earth’s will, shredding the curtains of sunlight into shimmering gossamer strands that drift slowly through the air until they disappear among the ferns into cool quietness of the forest floor.
Aside from the redwoods themselves, the forest here has none of the grandeur of the American west. It is a place so unlike the forests of the giant Sequioas, that it is hard to believe they are cousins. Both are immense, but the Sequoias are muscular trees that grapple with the land – clinging to the slopes of the Sierras through a sheer force of will. They and everything about them have a massive intensity of presence – a presence that pushes constantly against the senses reminding smaller creatures like us of the insignificance of our stature.
But the redwood forest is different. Underneath these towers the forest is subtler. It is a place with a reverence for small streams and cool mossy rocks. The hills are low and unimposing, their attention focused on the unhurried meanderings of salamanders and the silent flight of sparrow sized owls. The birds often sing so far above the ground that the silence is as soft as hummus littered floor, the wind tempered to a whisper.
I think it is this smallness that imbues the forest here with spirituality. Out of this quiet humility rise the tallest creatures on the planet. It is a living embodiment of the connection that we all seek at some point in our lives, a living link between the little-noticed and the incomprehensibly grand.
- Redwood National Forest, July 2004