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Sounds of Silence

Silence takes many forms. At Cathedral Gorge State Park upon the indigenous territories of the Fremont and Southern Paiutes in Nevada it is the absence of wind whistling through the clay canyons. A deep, sacred silence. A contemplative silence in which I can detect the scurry of a mottled lizard seeking shade. It half-heartedly performs five push-ups on an outcrop before scampering back into the mouth of a mouse-sized cavity. Then the hot breeze picks up again, scattering sand up into my face. I choke and cough, but stay in place, thankful for the ravines’ cooler temperatures in the desert heat.

Outside the beige cliffs, silence is the sound of my feet thumping along the hardened kaolin trail. Juniper and sage fall from me on either side, expanding into a mirage of replicating undulations. Looking back at the buff spires, I can hardly believe all those slitted entrances exist to transport me into a world of shadowed textures. The naturally sculpted walls keep their counsel — preserving stories of Pliocene gilled creatures and eruptive volcanoes, hunter and hunted. A hawk circles the azure, uttering baleful shrieks which tear the tranquil fabric. I envy the bird’s boldness. The inexorable warmth stifles my voice, dampens my movements so that I skulk in the openness…watchful, though nothing materializes for miles.

Silence conceals as often as it reveals. Alone with my thoughts in this arid landscape, I think about the matters I’ve left unsaid for various reasons. Tales I’m unwilling to tell. Though every story betrays the storyteller, we are not the sum of our chronicles. Yet, how often I continue to mistake comprehension of an artist through their creations. How many have falsely believed the same of me. An embroidered butterfly flashes out of a primrose bush. I rush to make allegory of this scene, to imbue it with some sort of significance…again desperate to control the narrative, instead of letting it be what it is: a change disclosed to my lucky senses. The winged creature collects, amplifies, is its own outside of my intentions. 

There is so much silence in the ordinary. Sometimes it can be misread as indifference. Or forgetfulness. Growing up I became used to silence. It filled our home and my days as I navigated two languages and two cultures. It sunk heritage and histories my family thought better left in the dark. It faded memories and wisdom they had no tools to translate. An unfillable gap. An irretrievable loss. The depositions of sediment around me speak of other losses too easily silenced: testimonies of those who’ve gone before and those who survive, cradled still within this land. Sagas vanished into the vortex of violence which I will never hear or read.

Someone I lost once told me, “silence begins with the mouth.” Do I always understand when keeping peace is helpful, when it is harmful? The silence of not speaking comes easily to me: I keep quiet in order to not be “the problem,” to not attract the “wrong” sort of attention. The silencing of truth is part of the human condition. Together with the silences born out of fear and shame, they perpetuate the harm I bring to myself and others. The pain does not lessen because I stay silent. Nor does death walk away from my muteness. 

There is also the power of healing in silence founded on love. Not a silence of hiding, but in being together without speaking. Silence as a key to understanding the essential, not a choice bent from the desire to protect, or minimize future unpleasantness. Such quiet transforms the receiver into that brief puddle of light which illuminates the heart. I sit in the wordlessness of the desert, exhausted from the fever of my hike. I drink in the leaves of sky peeping through petrified dunes and listen to the sands singing. There’s so much to unpack in the silence surrounding me.


TRAVEL NOTE: 

Cryptobiotic soil is the gel that holds life together in the sparse vegetated areas of the Nevada desert. As it stabilizes the top layer from wind and water erosion, it invites lichens, mosses, and algae to proliferate on rocks and other hard surfaces, promoting propagation of wildlife. 


When have you kept silent and later realized you should have spoken? Has the opposite been true? I’d love to know about your experience in the comments below.

80 replies »

  1. Your words as soothing as the silence itself in this beautiful location. Loved the photos of the fascinating rock formations. Always a pleasure to adventure virtually with you.

  2. Enjoyed contemplating your words, and especially the thought of how we are “not the sum of our chronicles” and yet we still try to create something out of something, especially silence, and not accept it for the beauty it is. Such a great read, and the photos you present us match the mood I had during this post. Within silence, we often can find the strength to move on and keep searching for what it right ~ and most important being strong in striving for what is right. Loved this. Wishing you well and enjoy your weekend.

    • Thank you. I’m delighted that you enjoyed my rumination about silence! As I stumble forward in my endeavors I realize there are never any clear answers, but our continual questioning both for self and the world lead to beautiful places. Wishing you well and a very lovely Spring in your neck of the woods.

  3. Getting back into the blogsphere, I’m both struck both by how barren my reader is due to so many others on hiatus like me, and the quality of the remaining writers I’ve been missing out on. Nicely done.

    • Aww, thanks Dave! My head is growing exponentially at your kind compliment. Great to see you back on the blogosphere and so excited to return to Mexico through your adventures.

  4. Looks like quite a trip, I also enjoy the sense of solitude, peace, and silence in Nature, specially in the desert.

  5. Your walk is spectacular and I love the ways you describe the silence of the desert. I tend to think of silence as positive these days, because I pursue it, but with that I do forget about those silences that aren’t helpful. I am often silent in person because I have difficulty expressing myself and when I was bullied as a child I kept silent to avoid them knowing they had affected me. Thanks for sharing this insightful post.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences of silence with me. I’ve been taught to think before speaking which makes silence my natural starting point for any conversation! It’s a great help in listening so comes in handy for those of us who write.

  6. I do love the way your whole narrative drew me into silence, a silence that is always here but that I pay little attention to. I’m reminded of one of my favourite teachers saying (paraphrasing) – instead of striving for peace, or silence, or stillness, why not look to see if it is already here. And of course it it.
    I felt myself in the hot desert with you and longed for it at the same time. Being Australian raised I feel as if the need for this kind of heat is baked into my bones, and as much as I love Canada and will be forever glad I made it my home, I think I will always miss the kind of heat I grew up with. It was nice to momentarily drop into that desert heat through your post.
    Alison

    • Aww, thank you, that touches my heart. 💜 While more of a temperate climate lover myself, I found a powerful connection in the heat and silence of the desert 🏜. And I’m so happy to learn my post brought you back to those memories.

  7. You’re such a pretty writer. Descriptive with good texture thrown in. And you’re making me miss the West, with its wide open spaces and desert landscapes.

    Hmmm. Silence. Miss it. Never realized how sacred it is until I left the States for an underdeveloped country where noise is part of the background — and problem.

    As far as speaking up, I’m more likely to say something I’ll regret, rather than keep quiet. Something particular in mind you want to get off your chest?

    • Haha 😛 so many things I’d like to get off my chest, but I’ll keep them to myself for now.
      As someone who loves quiet places, I would not do well in any area where too many people and human made noises invaded my every day. Guess that’s where the headphones 🎧 come in handy.

      • Yeah. I’d rather play something in the background than wear headphones. Sadly, you get used to the noise. But it’s an experience, not a forever. xo

  8. THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTS. NEED TO VISIT WHEN I MOVE TO NV IN THE FALL, TO APPRECIATE YOUR REFLECTIONS.

  9. Bonjour Bespoke Traveler, j’ai lu avec grand plaisir votre texte sur le silence. Parfois, le silence est nécessaire, d’autres fois, il vaut mieux dire ce que l’on pense.
    Je suis admirative devant vos magnifiques photos, elles sont toutes incroyable de beauté. Bravo pour ce beau voyage. Je vous souhaite un beau mois d’avril et une belle continuation dans vos voyages 🙂

    • Merci pour vos doux mots de compréhension. J’attends toujours avec impatience vos beaux commentaires sur mes histoires. J’espere que cela vous trouvera sain et sauf. 🌸

  10. What an incredibly beautiful contemplation of silence, Atreyee. You have expressed the myriad ways it can be expressed or found so well. My life is fraught with contradictions. I often babble away when I should keep quiet, and don’t speak my mind when I should. My solution is to withdraw from people, and hide in the silence of solitude. Something I definitely prefer.

    • I too prefer the company of nonhumans and silence is something I’m continually seeking since I am a creature of thought rather than speech. But, I muddle on encouraged by the fact that none of us really has the answers and we’re all trying to figure out what seasons are best for what actions. Thank you for your heartwarming and considerate comment. I hope this finds you well.

      • Your words resonate so well with me. Like you say, the best we can do is do what we can at any given point in time to figure out what is best for us. Our needs and desires change with the seasons of our lives and I guess how we adapt to that directs the course of our lives and our internal peace and sense of joy and purpose. 💜

  11. Hello Atreyee,
    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. Much has already been commented, and I just wanted to add my voice to show my appreciation for your writing and images. Hope all is well with you and all your dear ones.
    Best wishes from Japan,
    Takami

    • Hello Takami,
      How sweet of you to let me know how much you appreciated my post. I always look forward to hearing from you. Wishing you and yours healthy and safe. Happy Spring!

  12. The name of this park has always held an allure for me – Cathedral Gorge, and your beautiful photos and probing thoughts have deepened the enchantment. I hope to get there some day.

    • It is a wondrous little place and quite unknown as far as I could tell. Being in the middle of a desert certainly helps with that, but I was surprised that during my time there I only saw a handful of other people. Hope you get to experience it for yourself!

  13. Your thoughts on silence are most intriguing and powerful. Nature speaks silence well if only one takes the time to hear. When I was younger, I used to keep quiet when I know my thoughts and opinions are not what people wants to hear. I was afraid of rejection and it does more harm than good actually. As time passed, I learn to break the silence when necessary. For injustice, to defend and right what is wrong mostly.

    Sometimes, silence can be a very powerful way too. It can be deafening in its own way. 😄

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