About 13 years ago, we took a road trip, as a family, to Mesa Verde National Park. After we climbed through the cave dwellings, we drove a little away, and parking nearby, settled at a small picnic area. Actually, I settled there with a book, and Jeff took the kids for a little hike along one of the paths.
I read for a while, then closed the book. There was something that kept intruding upon me, and I couldn’t read
… until I figured out what it was. It was the silence.
I was surrounded by pine trees, sage brush, and assorted other hard-scrabble rock outcroppings and vegetation. The sky was a brilliant Colorado Blue (we, as a state, should patent this particular shade of blue). And there was not a sound to be heard. The silence was utter and complete. There were no man-made noises of cars, airplanes, people’s conversation or even an electric hum. And that day, nature was stilled as well: no insects were chirping, no birds sang, no wind rustled the leaves.
I’ve heard silence before (I know, that is a weird sentence). When I went parasailing as a teenager down in Mexico, hanging from that parachute high above the water — it was just the wind (and my fantasy of being Mary Poppins with a larger umbrella). But there was wind, so there was sound. That day, there was no wind — I could hear absolute nothingness.
I thought about that day this evening when my husband, Jeff, and I were sitting in a little club, listening to big band jazz. After all, music is made by the silence between the notes, just as the fire is made possible by the spaces between the logs — a breathing space. A note inserted in just the right place enlivens a song, in the wrong place brings a jarring dissonance. Jazz, above all other music forms, relies on improvisation as much as the written notes. It’s a mood set to music and hearing it played well gets heads nodding and feet tapping. We were listing to The Denver Jazz Orchestra play at The Prime, a pub and music venue about 15 minutes away from our house. Yes, we go listen to jazz and have drinks. Let no one say that my life is boring (actually, it’s pretty sedate, but not boring). It was good to get out of the house, listen to some good music, and eat fried food with an accompanying beer. The music was groovy, and raucous, and lively, and the people were mellow, jovial, loud, distracted, and appreciative.
And the experiences of hearing nothing and hearing so much were not dissimilar. Like two different sides of the coin, they serve to emphasize each other. And I have a need for both of them — at different times of my life.