Appreciating the silent reminder

The hawk soared above me with the freedom and agility that seems to accompany such birds. As I watched, all the noise of nearby civilization died away. In spite of an airplane and the traffic of a main road, I found myself engulfed in the silence of this red-winged hawk's flight. It glided on the wind currents in its lifts and turns, rarely using its wings in favor of taking advantage of the movement of the air to keep it aloft. I became aware that it navigated with complete abandon, just as we breathe air into our lungs without wondering how or why, taking for granted that it has always been so.

The feeling that came to me as I watched the bird's silent flight reminded me of a hike I once went on with a friend. The day was cold and overcast. We were hiking up to the snow which had fallen low into the foothills the previous evening. As we trekked, I paused frequently to gaze around at the beauty of the weather and the mountains. On one such stop I turned to view the valley below and was quite startled to find myself confronted with a thick fog bank about to engulf me. Although surprised and a bit intimidated, I was also much impressed. It hadn't made a sound as it came up behind me, yet there it was, quite effectively keeping me from seeing where I had been and where I was going. It was so present yet so silent, so formidable in its nebulousness, so viable as it swirled in billows and tendrils, making the mountain air visible by its movements.

Watching the hawk swooping and soaring, gliding and banking with complete freedom and confidence, I wondered what it is about the silence in nature that impresses me so. I suppose part of it is just that, the fact that it is nature, it is natural. It doesn't ask anything of us. It just is. It is sure of itself. It is like the voice of truth not having to announce itself but existing in the knowledge of itself. Quiet endures. Even in the noisiest industrial setting, all is silence underneath. The noise merely hides the silence for a time. When our supersonic jets and two-stroke motorcycles are gone, the stillness and peace of nature survives.

In view of the endurance of nature's stillness, noise seemed somehow doubtful , a gimmick used to simulate power. Man-made things, all our mechanical appliances of convenience, make an abundance of noise. Many times this uproar in the ear is even considered a status symbol . . . the loudest car, the highest volume of the stereo system, has something to say about power. Does man doubt himself? I wondered. What could we all hear in the silence within ourselves and in other things if we did not fear it and hide from it? We seem to have given noise the contrived meaning of substance. We don't notice the quiet around us, only the noise that disrupts it. But is silence really the void of inexpression and nothingness some think it is?

I've often wondered why it is so awe-inspiring to stand before a proud redwood tree, to contemplate a massive but delicate saguaro cactus, or watch a hawk for hours. Could it be because these things speak of powers beyond themselves . . . beyond man? A majestic eagle or a serene meadow certainly doesn't speak to us with words, but their silence voices their essence; the confidence of purpose and a sure sense of its reason to be. The beauty in nature doesn't worry about why it exists or how it is to survive, it just exists, and endures, and shares itself with all who are willing to acknowledge it.

I wondered what it would be like if all sounds stopped. I must admit I was a bit frightened by the idea. I felt too unsure of the forces that sustained me to feel I could even imagine such silence - to know, unequivocally, that hearing doesn't depend solely on the vibration of an eardrum; that hearing is only an echo of the real pulse of life; that if all the sounds I experience today suddenly stopped I would still hear. And it seemed to me that it would eventually come to that. That in our quest to know the truth of our existence we may come to a place, an understanding, where hearing will be noiseless; where everything will be ever so audible, yet not dependent on decibels or ears. As the hawk's strength and freedom are heard in the peacefulness of its flight, the bird's song may be heard in the beauty and utility it possesses, and the wind heard in its freedom of motion. Perhaps we wouldn't even have to hear the words ''I love you'' in our ears. We might be able to hear the whole universe singing it to us in the glorious realization of the mere fact that we exist!

The hawks must hear it, the trees must also. Their peaceful stillness invites us to listen to the sustaining forces of life that hold us all in complement to one another; to the joyous peace of everything as it should be.

That hawk may not have intended to tell me these things by the simple fact of flying by, but I thank him just the same and revere his silent glide all the more.

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