Silent Places

There are few silent places in the world. I’ve encountered so few, they wouldn’t take up all the fingers on my left hand. The first such place I encountered was Mike’s Pass in the Drakensberg. I went there with family and friends and it was astounding how huge the sky is up there; it isn’t the sky so much as the clouds which soar very high, making the sky look higher. Then there is the silence. I assume it’s still in residence, even though somehow, in spite of all common sense to the contrary, developers have been allowed to encroach on those pristine slopes and the silence may no longer be quite so loud. It’s at least ten years since I visited those immense voids. The silence fills your ears with cotton wool. It’s marvellous.

There are many distinctive rock formations on Red Hill.

Closer to Cape Town is the top of the mountain at Red Hill above Simonstown. This is a favourite place for me – I like to walk up to the Kleinplaasdam and just sit and listen to the silence boring into my ears. Occasionally frogs are audible if it’s been raining, or birds. That’s it. Now and again a distant dog might bark.

The back of Table Mountain as seen from Red Hill.

The human soul needs silence in order to think. As I sit here in my little place in a quiet part of Wynberg, all I hear is the quiet hum of my computer, crickets and occasional traffic. To me, traffic is not unpleasant in itself as a sound, it’s what it means that is less pleasant. Years ago I was on an interesting walk at Geelbek near Langebaan and there was a distant roar from behind some dunes. I wasn’t the only one who mistook it for traffic. It was the sea. Both have a soothing effect on me if interpreted only as a sound. As a sound it can be very soothing if it’s in the distance.

Modern human ears are no longer used to complete silence. I thought there were Christmas beetles (cicadas) when I first heard the silence of the Drakensberg. Then I realised it was my ears ringing. Some will do anything to fill the silence, bringing ipods, ghettoblasters, car radios etc to campsites to relieve the almost solid silence of wild places. It’s rather cool that many campsites ban audible music altogether. Why get away from it all only to bring it with you?

There's a lot going on in the silence...

One of my dearest friends is currently on a Vision Quest this weekend. It’s more of a mini-Vision Quest, since they usually take up about ten days. This one is three days, with one day and a night spent in silence all by yourself in a deserted landscape. He’s gone to sort out a few things in his mind, and has wisely chosen this way to do it.

View from my hiding place

I remember once grabbing an afternoon and retreating to Red Hill where I crept behind a rock, invisible to any other human being, (as far as I knew), lay down and just let myself be. My problems were physically far away, I felt finally as if I could commune with The Great Spirit and my ancestors, and when I came down the mountain, although nothing physical had changed and my problems were still waiting for me, everything was different.

My mind is the rudder of my life. Without my mind in the right place, nothing seems to shift, nothing goes ahead, and there is this sticky quality – I find myself spending the whole day on my bed with a book. Sometimes that’s cool. Today it wasn’t.

The black tea dam - full of mysterious depths

It’s time for another trip to Red Hill. Maybe a swim and a small picnic. (Thank you Guido) But I’ve missed my chance today – instead of upping and going, and floating in an ice-cold little lake the colour of strong tea (minerals from the mountain turn the water a beautiful red-brown) I frittered away the day which was extremely hot and enervating, by lying on my bed, eventually managing to do the laundry but not hanging it up… reading a book I really didn’t enjoy but kept reading in case it improved. It didn’t but hope remained right to the dwindly grey little end.

Even in a noisy environment, a tidy, orderly dwelling creates a certain silence. I’m really looking forward to this. The papers on my table are downright rowdy – so rowdy they exhausted me all day just looking at them. Since tomorrow is a working day for me, which always brings me pleasure, perhaps that little trip can still happen. Between Guido the Inner FunMeister and Sieglinde the Inner Nazi they will have to make it happen. As for me, I’ll start the day very early and order my surroundings.

Who knows what the silence will bring?

466 birds left this protea bush just before I took the pic.


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