Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

So far my favorite chapter in Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence is « Silent Places » in which she talks about her experience walking for days in a forest – about the secrets of a forest and its complex silences. I grew up exploring the old growth forests of western Oregon, and her descriptions of the Caledonian Forest in Scotland made me wonderfully homesick for the densely growing pines, the lakes and waterfalls, the ancient moss-covered lava flows of this unique area of the United States. All forests are unique—thankfully so—and Maitland has reminded me of the joys of discovering a particular forest’s visual and auditory texture, and thinking how those two spaces interact and oppose.

At the end of the chapter she reflects on the “varieties” of silence, and I love this bit especially:

Beyond the purely auditory experience there is an even greater range; there are emotionally different silences and intellectually different silences, too. I have come to believe that while sound may be predominantly a brain phenomenon, silence is a mind event. The experience of silence is more tightly bound up with culture, cultural expectation and, oddly enough, with language than the experience of sound is. Chosen silence can be creative and generate self-knowledge, integration and profound joy; being silenced (a silence chosen by someone else and forced upon one) can drive people mad. It is possible to experience external silence without any sense of interior silence and in a few cases the reverse. Catherine of Siena, the Italian mystic, was famously able to maintain a conscious awareness of her own interior silence while pursuing an eloquent and complex ambassadorial role about the politics of the papacy. Silence is multifaceted, a densely woven fabric of many different strands and threads.

3 Responses to ““Silence is multifaceted…””

  1. Anne K

    Okay, that settles it. I must read A Book of Silence.

  2. Stefanie

    Ooh, I have had this on my shelf unread for a few years now and you are reminding me why I wanted to read it! Thanks!

  3. Scott W.

    After reading your post, and knowing I’d be hiking over the weekend, I deliberately chose a forest hike: eight miles on a trail that winds beneath California redwoods for the trail’s entire length. What struck me in listening to the forest’s silence was how alive it was, how any sound that interrupted it seemed to awaken something. At one point, on a ridge with relatively little undergrowth, my companion spoke out loud and the words seemed both to echo and get absorbed; I could almost sense how the sound waves physically struck the large round trunks and were deflected and then re-deflected again and again while simultaneously being quieted by the soft bark. Anyway, I’ve little to say about the book or your post, really, except that my awareness of silence and sound was heightened as a result of reading, and for that I’m grateful.

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