“the Quiet made all things”~Robert Browning, “Caliban upon Setebos”
A quiet day.
In the woods, birdsong muffled, subdued, the low mourning of doves braiding softly with spring melodies tested on a late February afternoon. Above, the sky hangs muffled by a veil of cloud, grey, inscrutable.
On days like this, the very color of the sky seems to dampen sound, to chasten overeager cardinals and finches. House wrens test the eaves, considering. The irridescent flash of hummingbirds is many weeks away.
Even the deer scarcely make a sound, cloven hooves pressing hearts into the rich humus of last autumn’s leaves. The day after rain, sound too is diluted, washed away. The silence becomes presence, speaking wordlessly from infinite sparks of life–plants, animals, fungus, the microscopic unseen–all equally alive, all here.
I am a writer, a teacher. My work is words, and yet on days like this–on many, many days–silence seems my lingua franca, the mother tongue to which I retreat for comfort, respite. All day I teach words to students, in one language or another–or I write, sifting emotion through the sieve of experience in an attempt to pin down the ephemeral, trap it in words like insects in amber.
Often I struggle to know what to say. In big groups, of course–classic introvert. But often I don’t know what to say here, where my words become sound only in the clicking of plastic keys, and then fly silently in disembodied signals and pixels out into the innerspace of the internet. I am a writer. This should be easy. But all too often I say nothing because I cannot imagine what I have to say.
Thing 2 talks nearly nonstop. He is typically either talking or asleep. Thing 1, on the other hand, is a preteen Mr. Darcy, who will say nothing unless he has Something to say. I inhabit a space between the sound and the fury and pride and prejudice. I am mystified by people who make small talk, people who blog on schedule, people whose words seem to heed them like obedient genii.
After finishing a draft or a revision, I typically find that I have used all my words and have very few left. For a week or two, I struggle to uncover the words I need in everyday life. I wonder if this is something that happens to other word-people.
It feels strange to try to capture this wordlessness in words. Futile. Ridiculous. But there is something in this quiet–reflection, but also a kind of faint yet potent clairvoyance, a building sense of imminence, immanence. The smell of ozone before lightning. The taste of the winter air in the hours before snow. An inaudible humming, buzzing, on the edges of things.
There is much more to say, but it is not yet ready to be said.