Listen Closely To The Silence


I didn't tie the loops that hold down the cover of our barbecue when I last used it, so when last week's storm blew in, the cover flew off. I didn't get around to putting it back on until Saturday, but my tardiness turned out to be a good thing.

It was beautiful that day, cool and clear, still smelling of rain-wet soil and grass. Just as I finished tying the loops I happened to look up at the sky. There, streaking over Strawberry Mountain from northwest to southeast was a magnificent contrail, still in the making.

It was that odd part of the day that we only get up here in the mountains, the time of day when the sun has set, sort of. The sun was down behind Strawberry Mountain, but it hadn't really set because the folks on the other side of the mountain, or down on the flats, still had thirty or forty minutes of sunlight left. I watched the contrail forming, enjoying the pencil-thin, absolutely straight line chalking itself across a dark blue sky, transformed by the still-bright sun behind the mountain into a glorious scrubbed-clean strand of purest white.

The aircraft passed and I was left there, looking up at the slowly expanding contrail and another half dozen of the same, now morphing into fat, sausage-link streaks of wind-blown white that crisscrossed the sky in all directions. Then I noticed something else which brought a smile to my face.

Just then, my son David came outside.

"Listen," I told him.

David has much better ears than I have and I smiled as I saw him frowning.

"I don't hear anything," he said.

The air was dead calm. Nothing was moving. Not even a bird call broke the silence.

"Neither do I," I said. "Isn't it great?"

Before we retired up here, my wife and I used to come up as often as we could. "To recharge our batteries," we told everyone.

If you've ever lived down in the Valley you know how drained those batteries can get. Toward the end of our years down there I began to notice that the city noise never stopped, day or night.

Every once in a while when the temperature permitted I would step out into the backyard late in the evening, thinking to get a little fresh air, to be alone for a few moments, to be outside for a while after having spent the day either in a car or in a room full of people. I hoped to perhaps see a few stars or hear the call of a night bird. It always shocked me to find that the city noise was still there. I could still hear the never-ending hiss of rubber on road, the dull rumble of engines, the sound of voices, sometimes loud and close. It was the sound of turmoil, motion and too many people packed into a too-small space.

Occasionally, my wife and I are forced to go down to the Valley for something. We've made perhaps six trips down there in the eight years since we finally achieved our dream and retired up here. We have to think hard to remember where things are located when we make that drive. We've even begun to forget the names of the streets in Mesa where we lived for so long.

We don't think it's a great loss.

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