The Art of Learning Quiet – 1

Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.

― William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

I grew up in a noisy household in Queens, very near to Kennedy airport, with nearby nature rather non-existent. We all had a little green patch in front and behind our houses. I suppose I didn’t think about it. The important thing was having friends, which I did, friends you could bike around the streets with. And when we got a bit older, we’d biked to the patch of slanted green that lined the highway. I’ve lived in Europe for many years now and recently, on a visit to New York City, drove past that surprisingly tiny patch of green. We all know sizes change as we grow, as a kid that patch seemed enormous or at least big enough. We’d hang a rope from a tree making a swing in the summer and in the winter, take our sleds down the teeny slope (the only hill for miles around) stopping always in time. None of us ever crashed into the on-coming cars. I don’t have a memory of noise yet it must have been noisy. 

What I do recall is that once I moved to Norway, a land with awe-inspiring silence, real quiet terrified me. Like a scary scene in a movie when something ominous is bound to happen, you just don’t know when. I also know, I am not alone in this, this fear of quiet, and probably why public places have become noisier and noisier. Even in Norway. God forbid we should be alone with the sound of our beating hearts. God forbid we should come out of the everyday world that is dull yet safe. 

I have a memory of a cross-country ski trip with my husband shortly after I moved to Norway. I hadn’t the right clothing then, and it was awfully cold, so it wasn’t just the spooky quiet of skiing so far away from the beaten track, from any track, it was the desperate fear of freezing to death. My husband wanted me to experience skiing in wild terrain. We hadn’t seen another person for a while, the winter’s light was soon fading and I could sense from my husband’s severe silence, that he had no idea where he was.  Suddenly a man skied by and in the not so typical Norwegian style, stopped and began to speak to my husband hurriedly. Not understanding Norwegian then, I could tell this man was upset. Once he’d skied off, I inquire what he had asked. My husband hesitated and then solemnly said: ‘He asked if I had seen his daughter.’ I remember starting to cry and the tears freezing on my cheeks. ‘We’re lost too,’ I whimpered, more as a statement though I lifted my voice in question at the end, hoping my husband would come with a quick, ‘No, not at all.’ But instead he just shrugged and kept going. I remember thinking we would die there in the freezing cold and darkening mist and I’d never get to accomplish any of my dreams. But we didn’t die and when we were home, defrosting, I begged my husband to never ever EVER take me to an unchartered trail. There are tons of prepared tracks with clear signage where we from then on skied. Then over the years, especially on the lighted tracks, bit by bit, I began to enjoy the moments alone on the trail. With the stars overhead and the swooshing sound of skis through the snow, maybe a distant moose moving deep in the forest (emphasis on deep), a sort of meditative tranquility came over me. That stillness that used to signal danger and alert, now brought a sort of comfort. Something so unknown for a New York City girl.