the perfect sound

For those lucky few who have backpacked and reached a pass above the 10,000 foot tree line they will know exactly what I’m talking about.  The rest will never fully understand until they too have experienced it. 

The best sound I have ever heard is the sound of absolutely nothing.  In writing it can be represented by “… ” or even ”    .”  Complete.  Endless.  Profound.  Silence.

Every summer I go on a backpacking trip with my brother and my dad.  Occasionally other people tag along (cousins, friends, etc…) but my dad, my brother, and I are the main core.  We frequent the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail in the Sierra, both western and eastern.  The days are hot, the nights are cold, the trails are everything from beach sand to spiraling rock staircases.  If you’ve hiked in the Sierra you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, I’m sorry, I can not put into adequate words the true nature of the mountains; you’ll just have to go see them for yourself.

I will, however, try to impart and elaborate on one piece of the overall experience: the sound you get when you reach the top of one of the higher elevation passes.   The sound you will hear there is unlike anything you are likely to hear any other time and any other place in your life.  It is the sound of nothing, the sound of silence.

There are no car noises, no train whistles, no bike bells.  There are no birds, no small chattering creatures, or singing insects.  There are no trees to have their leaves whisper in the breeze.  There are no children playing, no conversations, no form of human dialogue.  An occasional plane may leave its vapor trail tearing across the wide open blue sky, the only evidence of human existence at all beyond the trail you walk, but they are too far away for any sound to reach your ears.

Can you hear it?  The silence is unbroken, pure, perfect.  The air is serene.  The world around you in tranquil.

Hearing that silence is something I look forward to every year, but tt is a bittersweet moment in each summer’s hike.  It is the best representation of getting away from the normal everyday, a brief moment of joy that embodies most of why I enjoy disappearing into the wild for a week (at least a week) every summer.  It a sweet few minutes perched atop the jagged edges of the pass with only my thoughts for company. 

It is bitter because it also signals the approaching end of the trip.  Once that experience is behind me (even if I go over other high altitude passes in the coming days before finding myself back at the car) I know that I’m headed towards that with every further step forward. 

While that is true from the very first step of a trip I don’t feel that angst until I leave that silence behind and venture down to the lower elevations, to the trees, to the birds, to the sounds of life.   Try as I might, I will never be able to recreate those moments of tranquility the rest of the trip and I will long for it, pine, yearn, until a year has passed and I am once again bathed in silence.

It is a sound I experience only once a year but every other sound throughout the year reminds me of it, makes me want to pack up and leave behind the clacking keyboards at work, the rushing air as cars fly down my street every hour of the day and night, the sound of the wind sucking on the screens of my windows.  Every sound makes me think of the silence of the Sierra passes and as the year ticks by one day at a time the desire to hear that ”    ” again builds.

I’ll be headed up again in less than two weeks now.  I can’t wait.  Even though I know it’s going to be hard work, it always is, and I’ll come back sore and tired, I still can’t wait.  The “… ” calls to me.