Excerpt from the longer piece, Perfect Quiet, by Craig Childs in Miller-McCune July/Aug 2009:
"“In many places in nature, particularly high mountains where the air is thinner, I certainly do enjoy the silence,” Minson says. “There is something clean, pristine, cleansing, purifying about the quiet I experience up there.”
Minson sees quiet as not merely a sensory absence. Rather, it is a state of sound. “It seems to be a tonality that maybe even your ears are emitting,” he says. “I’m wondering if in places of silence we aren’t also experiencing something tactile on our skin that supports or resonates with what we perceive as audible.”
In the Gran Desierto of Sonora, Mexico, I searched for this next level of quiet. The region is a sandy black-rock desert dotted with dormant volcanoes and abandoned, burned-out rancherias. Along the west side, dunes stretch across the horizon, the tallest rising 800 feet, like liquid mountains.
At first, it seemed all I could find in these dunes was a bone-scraping wind. It hardly paused, swirling and scribbling across the sand, a never-ending orchestration of sound. After several straight days it became a tad maddening, my mouth salted with blowing sand.
Then one night the wind stopped. It was as if the world suddenly held its breath. I left my camp and climbed to a slender dune crest, listening to the last breezes snaking away. I was nearly in the center of 4,000 square miles of sand. A gibbous moon settled low in the south, illuminating the ivory dune field. I clapped my hands, listened for an echo. The sand absorbed most of the sound, reflecting just enough so I could hear the clap riding away. I hooted loud, listened to my voice fleeing across the dunes.
And then I was still. I listened. A lever was pushing up my senses. It was like listening to the sky itself. Not a stifling silence like the anechoic chamber with blood hissing through my head, this was an audible hugeness.
The sound that came to me out there was thankfully much softer than Minson’s roar. It had the timbre of a gentle rain. As Minson says, real silence is not merely an absence. It employs all the senses, a full-body recognition of a vast stillness. Unlike the total void of artificial silence, which masks all incoming sound waves, here I was receiving information. I was an antenna planted in the sand.”
More writing by Craig Childs at HouseOfRain.com. I wholeheartedly recommend his books and writing workshops in the field.
Photo credit: Photo of cholla cactus in the Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere by Jack Dykinga via Wikipedia Commons.