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Innerbloom: Exploring Silence

Innerbloom is a weekly series dedicated to creating an artistic dialogue around our mutual connections with nature. The series is submission-based, and seeks to bring a diversity of artistic voices to reflect on the ways we shape nature and nature shapes us. Each week, I introduce a theme that pertains to the overarching concepts of nature and the self. Participants then have a week to submit a photo, a song or a piece of writing that relates to the theme, and I blindly select the artifacts that I feel best connect to that theme. You can submit your art to tinyurl.com/InnerbloomSubmissions. A new edition of the series is published every other week on The Mac Weekly website.

Next Week’s theme is Risk-Taking. Think about the ways nature makes you take risk and step out of your comfort zone, and submit your art to the link above.


Photograph

Photograph by Benji Cooper ’18.


Music “Cold Earth” by Boards of Canada Song chosen by Paul Chery ’18.


The second theme I chose for the Innerbloom series is Silence. Merriam-Webster defines silence as the “absence of sound or noise.” If we take this definition, silence becomes almost impossible to encounter in our daily life. Case in point, the first thing I experience in the morning is a sound: my alarm clock, at 8:30 sharp. While it’s a delicate piano line, it’s still more than silence. And then, the day goes on. I have classes, bike through the city, listen to music, talk to friends, etc… It’s hard to escape the noisiness of reality.

For me, silence almost never means the total absence of sound. Rather, silence is an atmosphere, a moment when things slow down, when I become aware of myself and my surroundings, instead of being caught in the hustle and bustle of (college) life. Silence is relative, more than absolute; we often talk about the silence of the night, even when the crickets sing and the wind gently swirls, because it contrasts with the omnipresent, often overwhelming loudness of the day.

As babies, most of us are loud; we use strident noises, crying and shouting to communicate our will for something. We are loud when we’re happy and excited, and equally cacophonous when things don’t go as we want. We don’t have the ability to speak yet, but already see loudness as necessary if we want to be heard and understood. As we grow up, although we try to tame our loud side, it comes up every so often, in an argument of if we win a sports competition. Can we even appreciate something if we don’t celebrate it with music or a party?

Although I like being loud and joyful, I enjoy moments of rest from time to time. Silence, or a low level of noise, can be peaceful, resting. For me, a hot tea and a good book, with gentle music playing in the background, can represent a form of silence, a sense of quietness. And yet, silence is scary. We tend to fear being alone, if we don’t have music or the constant noise of our phones to keep us company. I myself seldom go anywhere without my music; it has become such a normal thing to have a song playing in my ears as I commute somewhere that I feel weird whenever I travel without my iPod. Music, and sound in general, is familiar and comforting. It connects us with others.

Silence, on the other hand, is sheltering, cold, even dreadful sometimes. French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal posited that people use “entertainment” — sound, activities and work — to prevent themselves from being alone, in silence, which would make them think about their death. While cynical — and slightly morbid — Pascal’s statement has value: silence is often a time for self reflection, a time when we are left to our own devices, which might explain why we fear it so much.

And yet, I’ve found it beneficial to embrace silence. I often find silence in nature, when I only have the birds to keep me company, or the calming trot of a deer passing by. I remember a time in Bryce Canyon, UT, waking up at 5:30 to catch the sunrise. We arrived to the canyon shortly before the sun started peaking over the plateaux in the distance. Around us, little sound but the chirping of birds and the calm morning breeze. To me, this was silence. And it was beautiful, essential, full of life while deprived of sound. Embracing silence also means embrace being alone, being uncomfortable. I feel like I think about myself, my life and my place in the world a lot more when I’m alone in nature. When I let go of my phone, my music (this one is hard) and just take a walk, attentive to what nature has to offer, I receive so much, and learn even more — not just about the place I’m in, but about myself.

Music can be silent too. Not necessarily John Cage-level of silent, but it can evoke a calm or cold atmosphere, one that either relaxes or frightens the listener. “Cold Earth” by Boards of Canada represents the latter ambience, not only literally but also sonically. The song makes me feel slightly uneasy, almost distressed, a similar sensation to the one silence often provokes. The track is evocative of a harsh, never-ending landscape, weathered by snowstorms and winds, and yet now calm and immobile. In contrast, the photo that accompanies this week’s edition of Innerbloom is that of a warm, welcoming beach with palm trees that extend to the deep blue sky above. While a completely different environment, it also evokes a form of silence: no waves, no tourists, just two people walking, the sound of their footsteps muffled by the sand under their feet.

by Marin Stefani

mstefani@macalester.edu

November 7, 2017

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