There is no picture to go with this post, and for that, I apologize. But you can make one for yourself. Go ahead. I will help.
Close your eyes. Go on – close them. Close your eyes, and take a breath – slow, long, and deep. I’ll tell you what the breath smells like: clean, a little sweet with the scent of fecundity. Fall sun, the whisper of winter, a slight afternote of salt floating in. Now let out that breath and take another. And while you take it in, listen, and I will tell you what you hear: nothing.
You hear nothing, and that nothing is everything. It is the space that is made for a pair of mergansers to fly across a field and alight on the pond near you. It is the space that is made for a sudden wind to blow – strong enough that you can see it coming across the still surface of the water and listen as it shakes down the alders and birch and begins the winter process of stripping them bare. On its way, it bats the apples from the trees by the beach to the ground with a heavy, abusive thud that leaves sugar spots on their skin and calls the deer to feed, their slow chew a silence of its own, until they sense your presence and stop, perking up their heads in a frozen stance and then prancing away – a hop almost like a rabbit – the pattern of it smashing grass beneath their feet with the quiet underbeat of a drum.
Let out your breath and take another. Keep your eye closed. Here come the geese, the heaviness of their wings sweeping by you like a brush across a snare drum – sleepy, slow, the shushing of mother nature putting the earth down for a nap. The beat of fall. If you whistle for the dog, he will come, too, soft and silent across the grass and then faster, his own background beat, louder as he comes to your feet and stops suddenly and it is silent, except for his heavy pant of breath, backed up by a faint lap of waves sipping from the rocky shore and swallowing shells back down to sea with the tinkling of a wind chime.
This is what silence looks like. This is the picture to send with this post – of stillness and breath, of a life that happens around you like a quiet background beat of a drum to steady the earth’s breathing, and your own.
Now, open your eyes. Take a deep breath and try to hold on to that picture while the sounds of the city replace it with the cacophony of urban-ness, an aural affront that wakes your brain to alertness. It is endless, unpatterned: the unpredictable whine of a siren down La Brea. The inevitable, irrational hum of a helicopter over Hollywood, or the highway, or on a trip to the beach – the Uber of the rich driving through your backyard – louder, louder, closer, too close, too loud, receding, gone. Replaced in irregular waves of sound and motion. The neighbors are having the same discussion about their relationship across the alley over the one constant: the whir of air conditioning units pushing too hard at work, broken at irregular intervals by plumbing from the floor beneath you, so loud it may be in your own kitchen or bath.
These are the sounds of the city, and they create a picture of their own. The backdrop is an uncontrollable foreground that we don’t breathe in. We don’t move to them so much as follow them along, dodging their beat, letting go of our own, occasionally in step, or stepping aside. Welcome back to LA. Welcome back to the wake up.