Candlemas, II.1.2008, Eagle Valley, the South Wallowas, OREGON
Candlemas marks the passage of 1/8th of the Solar Year. For me,
it is not so much the church holiday—still celebrated in German-speaking
valleys in the European Alps—but the special quality of light and energy
one senses around the beginning of February. It is, in my view, the natural
pendant of the 1st of November, or All Saints'. Both are times for coming
together, with concerts, poetry and dance. And well, yes:—with many
candles, to bring back, the light.
On the road in the Northwest of America. [click photo for next . . . ]
NOTHING AS RESOURCE
Many nowadays come to the empty spaces of areas like the vast and
magnificent Snake River Gorge much like pilgrims of old journeyed
across entire continents to cathedrals: in search of healing, in search
of the divine. And now, just as in the past, contemporary pilgrims—if
I may use that word here in the sense of its root meaning of ‘wander-
er’—also seek perhaps healing, a sense perhaps of the sacred. But they
also seek, it seems to me, simply a period of rest or refuge from the
noise and forced rhythms of present-day Western culture.
Indeed, silence has in many parts of the world become an
endangered species of experience.
Think of it. No one actually set out to design the contemporary
soundscape; it is entirely an unintended by-product, an afterthought of
the Euro-American wild and crazy 100-year-old petrochemical ex-
periment. Cars, engines, mechanized movements of every description
criss-cross the streets of almost every city or town of any size around
the world, and they are all powered by some kind of remarkably noisy
What has all this corruption of what I call the sonosphere done to us?
I would guess that, as with all loss of purity generally, it has made us
less sensitive. How could this be otherwise? As environments become
more hostile, we naturally contract behind ever-tighter real or
psychological walls of self-protection. (To see this happen in a young
child is a brutal and terrible thing, since it signifies the beginning of
the end of learning.) And, of course, it has made us far less sensi-
tive to musical sound in particular. The Arts pages in North American
newspapers complain habitually of the decline of orchestras and clas-
sical music. But the real decline, it seems to me, began many years ago
with the loss of the deep grounding of rich, natural, acoustic sound in an
uninterrupted ambient silence. And with the ever-rising levels of noise,
our own voices have become ever-more strident, and louder as well.
And so the music we make and choose to listen to naturally reflects
this. A Stradivari fashioning his or her instruments in a contemporary
downtown New York? No way. Not possible. Mechanical, artificial,
electronic sounds without the slightest trace of natural sympathetic
resonance. Yes. That’s possible. And musicians playing so loud that they
wear protective ear gear.
Yes. That’s possible, too. It’s a fact.
Silence in Snake River country is, except for the occasional passing
car or truck, very much alive and well. So much so, that for the
unprepared it may confront one with something of a shock. An
uncomfortable feeling, at first. Something we can’t quite put our
finger on. And then, something remarkable may happen. A raven
honks in low, slow groups of 4’s and 5’s as it flies with audible,
steady wing beats due east across the Gorge. We are startled by the
presence of the sound, and listen to it disappear. Then, there’s a
loosening of the shoulders, a lengthening of one’s stature, a release
of an almost chronic holding of the breath. And we become like a string
which was too tightly strung, and that now, little by little, unwinds and
lets go of its tension into the emptiness of the Gorge. Yes. Nothing
as resource. That too, is possible.
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