Unmasking The Silence
Maggie Bartley

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[Geometric Landscape by Deborah Stone]
"Geometric Landscape" by Deborah Stone

After a month of not working, I am comfortable with the silence. My job, teaching fifteen year olds the intricacies of government, ended thirty two days ago. Now I am more relaxed and healthier than I've been all year. It is evening and I am sitting on the porch of the old farm house, the place where I spend my summer writing.

In years past this farm hummed with life. Two hundred years ago the sound of axes felling trees filled the air. Later came the squeals of laughing children and the moans of women in childbirth. Too many times this house echoed with the wails of mourning when a parent or child died. The ghosts of generations fill this place, but this evening they are silent.

Deep in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York, I am at peace. Alone for the week, there will be no family pulling at me, no friends dropping by for a visit. They will come in August, just for a few days they say. But right now this is MY vacation and I am relishing the quiet.

My supper from the garden is finished and I sit watching a pink sunset over dark green mountains, marveling at the peacefulness. How different from the busy suburban life I normally lead. The quiet is wonderful, like music. I find myself actually listening to the pulse of the silence.

Except that it is not really quiet. I hear a distant car speeding away, the sound of its tires growing ever fainter. In a moment it will be gone and everything around me will finally be quiet. There is a plane flying somewhere over head. It is flying very high, but I can still hear it. Then it too is gone. Quiet.

I listen, holding completely still, trying not to move, my eyes closed. The clock in the kitchen is ticking, I can hear nothing else over the sound of that clock. I get up and remove the clock, taking it upstairs where it gets buried in a basket of laundry.

Now it is quiet. No, not yet. There is the sound of the freezer in the storage room. I get up and shut the door so I won't hear the hum of the motor. Still there is something else. Where could that whirring noise be coming from? I look down and realize it is the sound of my lap top computer. I pull out the plug wanting the machine to die a silent death, but the back up battery keeps it running. I hit the power button and off it goes. Now it is quiet.

I sit cross-legged on the futon looking north at the approaching night sky. Everything is finally still. No. There is a humming coming from somewhere behind me. It is the refrigerator in the kitchen. Promising myself that I won't disconnect it for too long, I pull the appliance out. The floor below is littered with dusty Cheerios, lost pennies, unswept dirt and dust balls. I yank the plug and the noise disappears, but not the sound of my mother's voice inside my head.

"Get the broom and clean up that mess while you've got the refrigerator out." I ignore the voice and beat a hasty retreat back to the porch. I will not allow my mother to interrupt my vacation.

Now there is finally silence. I close my eyes again and my ears start to pick up a myriad of bird sounds. An owl, a whippoorwill, small insects all chattering away. They have gone unnoticed in the noise that surrounds me.

I sit absolutely still, not wanting to break the spell. I am fascinated by how many tiny sounds there are in the silence. There is even the sound of my stomach gurgling as I digest my dinner. I am suddenly reminded of the Simon and Garfunkle song "Sounds of Silence." Here, even in my quiet world, there are layers of sound, one piled upon another, until most are lost. It's as if I have discovered a whole new world inside my own house. My ability to hear is magnified. Perhaps only the blind, not distracted by the whirl of color and lights, are privy to this world of delicate sounds.

When I finally move, the scraping of my hands as they slide across my knees is overwhelmingly loud. The noise my bare feet make on the carpet is enormous. I acquiesce and plug in the refrigerator. The hum of the appliance is like the drone of a airplane. The normal din of life has returned.

On one final defiant note, I ignore my mother's voice and push the refrigerator back, leaving the floor beneath it unswept.

Maggie Bartley has taught History for twenty-five years, and is also a historical researcher and writer. She has just completed her second Historical Suspense novel and is actively seeking a publisher. Her time is split between teaching in Maryland and writing at her two hundred year-old farm house in northern New York. When sitting in front of the computer becomes too much, she relaxes by practicing Yoga.

E-mail Maggie at

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