“Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.” Mary Webb.
I wandered recently into our backyard, camera in hand, to see what drama might unfold in front of me this day, and the first thing I noticed was the quiet. Now quiet is a relative thing in the city, never absolute, but this yard was quieter than usual. No bird chatter to compete with the traffic murmur from the street or the buzz of neighborhood lawnmowers. In fact, there were no birds visible, not even the ubiquitous sparrows.
I checked the blooming plants to see what was buzzing around waiting to have its picture taken, but the situation was much the same there. There were a few insects visible, but where was the usual bustle among the blooms? Was everybody gone or were myriads of bright little eyes watching me from secret hiding places?
“But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!” ~Artur Schnabel
Truth be told, this was hardly the first time that I’d gone into our backyard or into a forest or grassland to find not much visibly happening. It’s like going fishing when the fish just won’t bite. Everything looks the same as the last time the fish cooperated, but something has changed. At least for the fish.
Very often the cure is just to wait quietly, to join the pause, and see if things pick up. This seems most true for me in the woods, where after a half and hour or so birds will start to move around again, rustlings will be heard in the undergrowth, squirrels will creep out and start foraging around. It’s as if the citizens there can’t associate humans and stillness and just assume I’ve gone. Once, I looked up to see a coyote staring incredulously at me from maybe thirty feet away. At that little motion, it was gone. Like a light bulb going out, just that fast and silent.
Knowing when to shut up and hold still is something hunters know well–first day of Hunting 101. It’s also not a bad strategy for life, in general.
But our backyard denizens are pretty much accustomed to us. They may back off a little further when we come, but they don’t leave or even make much of an effort to hide. And what about the insects?
We have seen the opposite, too, like the morning Nadia and I watched out our dining room window over breakfast and counted 18 species of birds in half an hour or so, including a Cooper’s Hawk, and that without trying very hard. Except for the tense pause when the hawk dropped by, everybody seemed full of purpose and activity and hustle. Is it like a room full of people at a party, chattering and mingling animatedly one moment, then shuffling awkwardly the next at a sudden communal pause in the conversation?
What happens when nature holds its breath?
I couldn’t say, although I doubt that nature’s people feel awkward about silence. Maybe everybody out there takes little breaks when they feel like it, and once in a while these pauses just happen to clump together into a Big Quiet. Coincidence.
Or maybe the world simply deems it wise to stop and consider once in a while—taking a deep breath and listening carefully between the notes, just checking.
Seems like a very sane thing to do, if you ask me. I can wait.