Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Diving Into the Silence

          Every year for one long weekend just this time of year we dive into a pool of silence. We disappear ourselves into the tree house in the after-the-season town of Stockbridge in the Massachusetts Berkshires. It's different there now: The summer tourists gone, the Tanglewood season long over, the last strains from the last James Taylor or some other nostalgic pop concert drawing a long exhalation whoosh of traffic down a narrow country road past the summer cottage where we stay have long dwindled to a dying fall. (Sometimes in the summer months we are part of that country-road post-concert whoosh.) And after the stilling of the child-splash chatter from the strip of imported sand on the edge of a great blue wet circle locally called Stockbridge Bowl we drop down into the deep well of silence that settles over a landscape when a long-playing record that grooved itself into a season has come to an end, and the crowds have gone away.
We are summer people as well since the family cottage where we stay has long provided a summer retreat for Anne's parents and frequent guests like us. But when the long Columbus Day weekend arrives, we immerse ourselves in a depopulated landscape, dropping down into a well of silence, shuffling out feet into four-inch thick carpets of fallen leaves and winding our psyches into the star-lit quilts of chill autumn nights. We can count on the chill; it's cool in the mountains after dark in October. The cottage, thin-walled, uninsulated, has the dank feel of abandoned shelters because no one has been inside it in weeks, turning on radiators, using the stove, flicking on the light switches. If the temperature has just dropped sharply, it can be a mind-chilling experience just to open the door. You want to step back outdoors where the cold is in the right place. 
        But that's not even the biggest difference between here and there. We an turn on the wall-unit radiators, flicks the switches on the lights, put the tea kettle on the stove, raid the cookie box... But after that there is absolutely nothing to do.
        That’s the scary part.
        No TV, no internet, the phone has been turned off. We could bring a movie and play it on our laptop if we were the kind of people who knew how to do that (we aren’t) and owned movies (we don’t).
            We do have use of a radio that brings in a couple of woodsy public channels through the mountain ridges, one of them a reliable source for classical music. One evening last month we got an earful of the modernist side of early 20th century composer Shostakovich. A musical approach that seemed to say 'if you wanted to stick to the same old familiar stuff, you should have stayed home.'
            We bring books. Most evenings we succeed in finding acceptable background music. We sip wine if we remember to bring it. We bring our own food. Our other source of entertainment is making fires. This is the one place we can do that because we don’t have a fireplace at home.
            On the first evening we walked down to the pond to glimpse the underside of the clouds, few or no stars visible in an overcast sky. A cloud-masked moon glowed occasionally behind the thinner clouds.
            The second night the sky was clear but now the moon was well past first quarter and we saw only the brightest stars: the handle of the big dipper, the rest of its shape a fainter approximation. We checked out the heavens from the pond beach earlier that day as well, arriving just after sundown for twilight color: sky very clear, no clouds to catch the last light, some pinkish line. And a first star appearing in an absurdly bright sky, must be the evening star.
          And during the days we find places to walk in the country of autumn. This makes Anne very happy: see photos.