Every year my family and I go to the Berkeley Alumni Family Camp, also known as the Lair of the Bear. I get to hang out with my awesome cousins, dive in the pool and play intense half-day games of Settlers of Catan.
I enjoy doing all of those things, but what I treasure most about our yearly pilgrimages to the stone transepts and columns of my California mountains is the silence deep at night. Last night, knowing it was my last night in the high mountains for a while, I sat on the steps of the cabin I shared with my partner, long after nearly everyone else in the camp was asleep. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and so though I knew the sky was glorious I wasn’t star-gazing.
I was listening, listening so hard it felt like my ears were going out to find the sound that wasn’t there. I felt my hearing stretching, cherishing the smallest hints of animal and weather noise. As I stretched my ears out, I felt the silence pouring in, filling my soul with the calmness of mountains.
My mountains aren’t the oldest; they’re mostly granite which means they rose from the heat of the earth rather than the slow rise of layering sediment nudged up by moving plates. They aren’t the greenest; most of the Sierra Nevadas is high desert, which is exactly the way I like it (as a Californian I distrust too much green–it implies someone is breaking drought restrictions on lawn-care). But, in my experience of mountains, my mountains are the quietest, when the sun’s been down longer than it’s been up and when the sky clears of flying fowl. That’s when I can hear the world breathe and I breathe with it.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”–John Muir, 1913, in L.M. Wolfe, ed.,John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938