The Seward Park woods possess their own variety of solitude — that sense of walking in a true forest, with its velvet-humus paths and ferny, salal undergrowth, while still holding (in the back of the mind, hopefully) the reality that we're in the middle of a nearly 4 million person bio-region with all its attendant traffic, pollution, crime, density, etc.
Mostly I try to forget the urban as I detour from the main trail bisecting the park, and venture down any of the winding side paths where one is more apt to see a pileated woodpecker than a sidewalk. Yesterday, though, that fact was quickly diminished when the blare of music from one of the weekend-anchored yachts in Andrew's Bay cut through the primeval silence like manufactured thunder: at once obnoxious, offensive, painful. Never mind that someone else's taste in music is not my taste in music; never mind the fact that whoever the arrogant bastard was that cranked the volume up was in blatant violation of a city noise ordinance. This was just a simple violation of the laws of nature. I doubt the owls — who I'll get to next — threw a party to coincide with the blare. Nor, I'm thinking, did the otters, or the turtles, or the tanagers or bushtits or chicadees or finches or salamanders or eagles or.....
But what do I know?
Finally the music stopped, and lo and behold, if we didn't hear an owl hoot, from just above us, and then another, from the other end of the park, and then another from yet another direction, and then a fourth, in varying tones (including a series of almost comical hoots about which my companion said, "sounds like someone's getting hooting lessons!")
We stopped, backtracked a bit to try to find the source, but the sounds were coming from high up in the camouflage of the maple and fir canopy, a swirl of a thousand shades of green with late afternoon sunlight cutting through. I turned in a circle, my face turned upwards, and they hooted again, like park sentries from the four directions, seeming to reclaim their euphonic rights in this 300 acres of temperate rainforest.
And then they were done. Silence: the silence of thousands of tiny white mushrooms just beginning to emerge from the sides of decomposing logs, the silence of a single leaf releasing itself from the canopy, the silence of worms beneath our feet, the silence of a slug or a hundred slugs, each without fanfare, going about their quiet business.
We were not silent; our footsteps, however calculated to lightness, sounded their soft thuds. And our breathing announced us to the gnats, to the spiders strung out in a lattice from alder to hazelnut branch, from huckleberry to Oregon grape.
Far down the hill, the lake flashed sparks of light through the trees. For a few moments, I forgot the city humming on every side of us, and heard, however briefly, the earth sending out a sigh: the sound of our unspeakably magnificent planet precariously existing.
Maybe I'm lying. Maybe I heard nothing. Maybe it's only the poet in me believing that there's a larger hum to the universe, and that the absence of peripheral noise opens up a wider auditory ability in our decidedly limited human consciousness.
And then again, maybe I'm telling you: this is what I heard.
And it is.