The leaves are down from the maples ringing my lawn, and autumn rains have taken away their crisp crackle. Sodden, they lie underfoot, bright colors bled away to a November gray. Birds, my summer companions in song, have departed. No more liquid melodies and joyous cries rebound, except for the sharp, self-assertive scream of a jay, a flash of electric blue among bare branches.
Winter has not yet sounded its stormy voice, wailing and rattling around the north corners of a house drawn in upon itself and battened down for snow. Only the soft whisper of rain comes blurring the windows and accentuating the stillness. My thoughts drop like pebbles into the pool of November. Seeking to dispel them, I kindle a fire on the hearth, only to discover, in the heart of flames, silences within silences.
Perhaps November is the proper time to ponder this inner stillness. To renew oneself. To entertain long thoughts and consider our place in the scheme of things. "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" wondered Paul Gauguin, in his monumental Tahitian painting.
Perhaps, too, this is the moment to luxuriate in the gift of quietude, as expressed in this quote from Laura Leach, which showed up on my quote-a-day calendar: "Never underestimate the enriching qualities of silence; for if you do, a great many of life's wonders surely will be lost to you forever."
One might expect the sun to set with a blare of trumpets, but the sunset is silent. The turning earth makes no sound. Flowers open their petals the way stars blossom in the evening, in silence.
Yet noise pollution is a part of our modern lifestyle. Sound batters us from every side, in the roar of traffic and blat of horns, in the drone of aircraft overhead, in the ringing of phones and the clatter of household appliances. We are surrounded by the constant clamor of life, invigorating but, ultimately, exhausting.
Especially, we are overexposed to perpetual chatter, a babble of tongues. "Blessed are they who have nothing to say and who cannot be persuaded to say it," wrote James Russell Lowell.
Even if one has something to say, one may sometimes manage to avoid the saying of it. The Japanese have formalized this idea into their ultimate form of communication. Haragei is the art of making oneself understood with silence. It should, I think, be adopted by the Western world.
Meanwhile, I seize those moments when silence is golden. I sit in my rocker by the window and watch the last leaf on the maple fall without sound, settling into the deeper silence of this November afternoon. In such a quiet oasis, I can hear the pulse of my own life thrum in my ears. The measured beat of the pendulum in the clock on the dining-room wall echoes and re-echoes the reassuring rhythm. All is well.