In 2008 I went to the Dominican Republic for a 5-day meeting as part of a Christian formation task force for the Episcopal Church. Hurricane Gustav had just ravaged the island of Hispañola, leaving a path of destruction of landslides and destroyed homes. Before we flew in, we knew we could take two pieces of luggage for free – but did we need that much baggage for a short visit? Each of us decided to bring a large duffle bag full of disposable diapers as our 2nd bag. The Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic distributed them to churches to then give to families in need.
For the past fifteen-plus years (minus 2020 & 2021) during the month of August, John and I (and often our adult children) have journeyed to new places to experience the breadth and depth of other countries, having spent the first 25 years of our marriage traveling within the United States from coast to coast. It is a privilege to be able to “take off” time and afford these trips; we acknowledge that few people can do such type of travel. These adventures broaden our understanding of the world – geographically, culturally, politically, and environmentally.
Hello darkness, my old friendI’ve come to talk with you againBecause a vision softly creepingLeft its seeds while I was sleepingAnd the vision that was planted in my brainStill remainsWithin the sound of silence
“Sounds of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel
I love August nights. The sounds of peepers when the temps are right – tree frogs, crickets and all the night creatures serenading me to sleep. I’ve been fortunate in that all the homes (excluding first apartment) have been set on a +/-acre of land that was at least partially wooded. Where we live now we’re surrounded by woods; it’s common to hear owls and coyotes calling in the darkness.
Quiet, comfortable silence that some might find too noisy. And as of last week, I’ve come to recognize the others noises that are not so pleasant. My ears have been sensitized to the quiet, to the stillness, to the sound of the air and the breath of creation.
We arrived in Africa during a full moon, so we could still see our way along the pathways to our ‘tent’ and could catch the outlines of the multitude of elephants that strolled back and forth from the river in the early evening and early dawn. Sleep was often awakened to the sound of hrrmpphing . . . hippos rising out of the cool water of the river to feed on the grasses on the shore and inland, whether they were green or dry. The trumpeting of elephants communicating and defending their young sounded within reach, although were probably hundreds of meters away. The cry of a leopard in the distance.
The nights became darker. As the moon waned, the sky opened up. Coming back late evening from a game drive in the land rover gave our guide pause to stop the engine, turn off the headlights and be still. Looking up, the cosmos bloomed in a massive array of constellations and planets. The Southern Cross . . . follow the two pointers. The Milky Way. A shooting star. Another. And another.
Each morning awakened before the dawn cracked open to the sounds of vervet monkeys chattering in the trees and birds urging the sun to rise. A new day, a new adventure. A new experience of life that occurs everyday that was unbeknownst to me before.
In the heart of the Delta we are treated to mokoros. Guided by our boatsmen, they silently glide through the glass waters amidst reeds, grasses, palms and papyrus, with a steady hand and strong arm of the pole. True silence. During the day, even the hippos are hidden away in the tall reeds, crocs sunning themselves on the floating debris only to slide into the shallows as we approach. Watching a multitude of African fish eagles watching us, herons and cranes mirrored in their search for fish, a Pel’s Fishing Owl discovered in the trees. It is quiet.
The nights are again silent. The hippo grunts and elephants walking through mud and water are part of the sounds of calmness. The tree frogs create a rhythm of their own, different varieties, each with their own melody. A lion’s roar, followed by the bark of a hyena in the distance. It is quiet. Encased in a mosquito-netted bed, you can hear the earth breathe.
Flash forward. Gladly back to the comfort of my own bed, easily flowing hot water and awaiting for the August peepers to lull me back to sleep. It is not to be. The silence is no longer present. The hum of the refrigerator, the glow from the clock radio, the water softener going through its cycle in the wee hours of the morning. The cars . . . loudly whispering away on the Merritt Parkway on the other side of the woods. White noise.
Silence is a curious thing. You think you know what it is until you don’t have it anymore.
But I still have the peepers for another month, and the remembrance of the whispered sounds of silence.
Photos taken by John Pearson, Sharon Pearson, Becca Hays and Chris Pearson (July 30 – August 10, 2012).