I began the day with the intention to be silent. There was no one to speak to other than myself. The kettle on the black cast-iron burner whispered a low hiss to tell me the water was hot. A little swallow with grumpy eyebrows chirped a bit to warn me off its nest, but those were not words either. Only in my silent thoughts did anything close to words take shape, heard internally, in my own voice.
I put on a straw hat with a torn top and pulled on my backpack. Water, the heel of a loaf of bread, granola bars, dried mangoes, and a journal. My plan was to walk all day, silent and receptive, through the dunes and valleys of the Province Lands.
A friend had called a few days earlier, explaining that he couldn’t stay through his week in a dune shack, and offered me a few days there. I dropped everything and went. I had walked these dunes before but realized now I knew them only in the way you know a person you wave at in passing.
I set out on that summer morning facing the sun, stepping gently through a grove of scrub pines nestled low and dense in a flat, sandy plain. Then the trees grew taller and the ground beneath my feet was squishy, brown water and peat rising between my toes as I passed through a different ecosystem, a low bog of tannic water, cranberry, marsh sedge, and little purple orchids.
I would return to these flowers each morning in the days to follow. I knelt down to look at their structures: impossibly soft folds in a world of rough bark and sand. They swayed in the wind, nodding to me. I felt the pressure of thoughts brimming in my mind. They wanted to be words. I nearly spoke to the orchids.
My path led to higher hills to the south where the wind was swooping through the dunes in warm, graceful gusts. I stepped slowly through bayberry, over reindeer lichen, little blue stems brushing the sides of my feet. I thought about where I was. I heard a voice ask why I deserved to be in a space, this quiet vein of inspiration, where only artists and writers get to be.
Perhaps I am an artist, came a thought. Or a writer. A thought: I am a creative being. And then I heard the thought, louder, “This is just what you are.”
I had spoken. To myself. I put my hand to my mouth. My thought had escaped me and become real, my first spoken words of the day.
As I wandered from the barren sandy peaks to the low, lush bogs, nestled like little oases in a desert, I would speak again. A thought would become dense enough to run down from my mind, into my throat, and with just the slightest breath, be spoken.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I said to an arrowwood viburnum growing on a dune top, in pure sand, exposed to the north wind. To which it replied with its glossy leaves and plump flower buds, “Oh, but I should.”
“I don’t know what you are,” I whispered to a little drop of red-orange sunlight growing in a swamp. It looked like a lichen merged with a Venus fly trap: orange fronds reaching out, fuzzy with delicate hairs, each with a drop of sugary dew at its end, sparkling like gemstones in the sun.
“Mmmmm,” I said to the one other person I saw that day.
“Why do I have clothes on?” I said aloud while lying in a sunny, sheltered bowl in the dunes.
All of these sounds, these thoughts given voice, came from me without any conscious effort. They were ideas, and as I breathed into them, they became words before I could catch myself.
When the sun rested lower in the sky, I sat high up in a hollowed dune, overlooking golden peaks and ridges and the ocean beyond. The wind luffed my shirt and rattled the sand through the dry grasses. I reflected on the thin line between silence and sound.
A thought is a silent thing. Given breath, it passes over the shapes and contours of the body: the throat, the mouth, the tongue, the lips. As the thought moves over and through the spaces between these forms, it constricts and bends, and in this relationship between the breath and the body, it is given voice.
The wind blew, as it had all day. The wind, too, is silent, I thought. It is only when it moves through the contours of the dunes, the valleys, the grass, and the needles of the pines, does it make a sound. Bending as it passes through these forms, in this relationship between the wind and the dunes, it is given voice.
A thing spoken is intended to be heard, to be received by another, to be acknowledged, to inspire more thought in the one who hears. Yet I was speaking to myself. The wind was speaking for anyone who might want to listen.
I looked at the sand, a million grains shifting with each gust. I looked at the grasses, bracing in the rush of air. The clouds, great masses of water in the sky, floating against the blue. This truth settled into me with no resistance: We are all made of the same things. The atoms of the sand are the same as those of my body. This is fact. Science confirming what the spirit has always known. I felt a part of my surroundings now, a piece of this world observing itself, the wind whispering in my ears as it passed.
What was the wind saying, speaking through the dunes this way? What silent thing was asking to be heard? Listen. Just listen. In the wind the world is speaking to itself.