In defense of silence
The best thing about hiking before dawn is that people aren’t awake enough yet to carry conversations beyond pleasantries. We amble along slowly, reserving what energy we have to focus on moving from one point to another. The setup is conducive to concentration. Armed with a head lamp beaming brightly, though narrowly, upon the ground ahead of us, we’re forced to move only where the light shows us. Never mind the overwhelming mess of forest that resembles everything tangled and bent inside us. Never mind the vastness of this land that makes us mindful of our tiny selves. Never mind all else. We’re here now and tasked to take things a step at a time.
I savor the predawn hours on the hikes I’ve been. These are the moments when I feel calmest. There is no obligation yet to put on one’s self (like a sweater to combat the cold) and think of appropriate ways to be in the world. If you love sleep and the toasty warmth of the bed with your heat still clinging to it, then you’ll know as I do that it’s difficult to will ourselves awake. The mind meanders on, not quite ready to reconcile the need to rise and the urge of joints to stay idle. Yet, it commands the body awake and soon, before you realize it, you’re sitting on cold concrete and putting on a pair of socks. This is it, we’re walking. Already I feel victorious. Never mind the thrill of the summit. Never mind the competitiveness of fellow climbers who are eager to overtake on the path. Never mind all else. We’re here now and ready to move.
I bask in the joy of carrying silence across vast landscapes. If I am to be honest, I know that I am never quiet. Something inside me always stirs. There is restlessness and rupture, like water flooding through a dam, seeking release. Left to my own devices, I always feel like I am on the brink of exploding. Immense quantities of feeling throb through my veins, threatening to overwhelm my heart at full intensity. Thankfully there is breathing. There is an attention to breath that startles the emotions and humbles them — for what are the chances of feeling when one is lifeless and without breath? I begin to breathe and grow comfortable in the quiet. Never mind the million and one things I have thought to write about. Never mind the thoughts that threatened me awake the night before. Never mind all else. We’re here now and quiet enough to listen.
I relish these precious hours when the mystery of a new place engulfs me. I suspect it is the light that lends to the enigma because it comes out differently with each day that unfolds. Not that I doubt it. I know more or less where the sun will rise but I can never guess how it will decide to banish the dark. That is another story and it changes every day. With every step taken forward, we move from the blindness of dark to some kind of knowing, some cognition of the world as it struggles to be revealed. There is a newness here, and a definite charge of excitement, for aren’t all places, including the ones we know and love, made new by mornings? I quicken my pace. I can feel the excitement rush through me. Never mind the uncertainty of where this path leads. Never mind if the sunrise is lousy. Never mind all else. We’re here now, eager to welcome our days.
Finally, we reach the summit, or what passes for it. We are in a place called Mount Daraitan and at 5:30 a.m. a sapphire sky still hangs above us. The sun has yet to rise and we are relieved to arrive a little before dawn. We move in search of a place to sit. The stillness of our early-morning walk is met by the bustling of other hikers. They move their heads from left to right with their lamps on, drawing beams across the summit directly at us who have just arrived. Earlier, in the dark, I could sense my pupils dilate especially when fixated on the shadowy outlines of trees. Now the harsh LED lights strain my eye muscles. I’m temporarily blinded and relying on a sense of sound to get by. Closer to the others, there is a cacophony of hikers bantering on how difficult it was to get here. They speak as though their companions sit across from them, on another summit altogether. The acoustics on top aren’t made for the multiple conversations people wish to have. They speak over each other’s voices, as if eye contact were enough to transport sound from one mouth to another’s ear. Some have given up speaking and decide to play music, never mind that three paces from them someone else already has a playlist on loop with speakers to boot. This is chaos.
In a fit of desperation and equipped with a healthy sense of adventure, I make my way past the crowd and risk alighting upon the slippery top of a limestone formation that juts out, between trees. I’ve found a smooth saddle where I can ride the rock, locking a piece of it between my legs and holding my body upright. I turn my back against the crowd and face the mountain range. In front of me, the ravine is mesmerizing. I can’t see all the way to the bottom but I am tempted to risk flying. For a moment I sit, temporarily transfixed, attuning my senses to the Daraitan river whose surface holds all the light that has yet to touch the mountains. I’m awestruck, forgetting how to tweak my camera’s settings, wondering how it’s possible to take this all in.
Just as I am certain of the ecstasy pouring in, I hear a man’s voice. He calls out to me, telling me to get off my perch so his companions, who took the trouble of getting here, can get their selfie: “Miss, puwede bang bumaba ka naman d’yan para makakuha ng litrato yung mga kasama ko. Nagpakahirap din naman silang umabot dito, kaya bigyan din natin sila ng chance makapag-selfie.” It takes me some time to realize what he is saying. His words sound foreign. In essence more than form and in response, my mind conjures a phrase from a language I’d long forgotten, “Je ne comprends pas.” I don’t understand.
I belong to an age that triumphs convenience, that treats silence as treason, that wants to say everything and mostly nothing. I am sold to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where every twitch of society is supposed to compel me to speech. Worst yet, for all this connectivity, I am forced to disconnect from nature and from other people, in exchange for someone’s cheap self-worth, quantified according to “likes” and “followers.” There’s no wisdom in the artifice, but who can tell that to Narcissus? Perhaps I’ll just have to wait until he drowns before returning to these mountains.
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Nash Tysmans, 29, is a reader and writer.
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