Something there is that does not permit sustained silence. Few of us may have the privilege really to hear it. Silence. I recall, about a decade ago, being on cross-country skis out in the Canadian backwoods and creaking to a stop, then holding my breath, and there was nothing but silence. Silence. Its magnificence is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present. Heart beats. And then some chipmunk chatters, or a bird tweets, or a far off airplane growls through the blue. Our world is an orchestra of seemingly unrelated sounds, from car doors slamming through feet scraping through angrily shouting.
Such was the young man, even at a considerable distance across the trestle bridge, disturbing the quietude of the glorious sunset layering itself over the Victoria Gorge. Yet Canadians tend to be softly spoken. Generalities are often wrong. We know it takes only one example of the obverse for most of us to raise a contention. Yes, Canadians can be noisy too. And indeed, the vociferous verbiage came closer and closer.
Sunset over the gorge occurs in these wintry December weeks soon after four-thirty p.m., and it lingers long, often mesmerizing us with its hues. The Gorge, a wide lake-like inlet from Victoria, stretches in a long goose neck toward parts unseen, and as viewed from my balcony the sun loves to come hover over the wooden trestle bridge most late afternoons, silencing the waters, making mirror-smooth the glassy reflections, halting up even a breath of wind. People bicycling and walking on the Galloping Goose pathway below appear as if outlined in gold, huddled romantically into themselves, their voices no longer heard when they seem to murmur in reverie.I think of Virgil: "Sacro tandem carmine vesper adest." Sacredness attends with the red-hue of vespers. Why disturb?
But the voice of the approaching young man was really angry, really loud, really vulgar. He yelled into his cell-phone in a vituperative stream of verbosity, his violence a blazing prism in which he, at twenty-something, advanced upon my landscape, head down, free hand gesticulating, his red parka open and swishing about with his erratic pedaling at his bicycle on the solidness of the pathway. Why did his listener not just hang up? He wielded an argument as though he was solely in the right, and given the ugly language, the swearing, it had all the earmarks of a foul-mouthed fellow fighting with his girlfriend. He wended his way past my apartment block, past the adjacent old-folks' home, along the seafront, and was smothered in the hollow sounds under the road-bridge archway.
I recall a time when I was that age, and in wanting to dominate a girlfriend's unruly Alsatian, I yelled at it and shouted and used my Big Voice. My landlady said she could hear me down the block! I, I who now cares that we do not chase the robin off its nest when we slam a car door have made plenty of untoward noise in my time. I have not thought about who was sleeping, who was ill, who was disturbed, nor upon what silences I was intruding. We live in a world of noise, and we give out sound, sometimes, with a sense that the louder we are the more important we are. Still, it surely suites one more to watch the ducks, to see sunsets, and in compassion quietly to allow for the belligerent and intractable. Still, preference being what it is, something there is in the magic of hearing only a heartbeat in the silence. Silence. A Privilege.