Thursday, April 16, 2009
The best thing about walking in the woods is that there aren’t any ghosts there. Most of the world is filled with ghostly chatter. Disembodied voices speak to us everywhere we go. Tinny singing haunts the marketplace. Belligerent spirits shout at us through the radio. Giggles and screams of pain come from the TV. People who aren’t really on the other end of the line—sometimes computer-generated people who never existed at all—cajole us on the telephone. The familiar voices of people we know are set free to race around the planet and speak intimately in our ears, even though their owners are thousands of miles away.
No matter how sophisticated we think we are about technology, I suspect our brains cannot quite credit the reality of a voice with no immediate source. When we can’t make eye contact with the speaker, can’t touch or smile at him, all that ethereal gab becomes pretty much indistinguishable from our own internal dialogue. Ghost voices, even though they fill the air around us, actually pull us away from our environment. They make us draw inward. We hear the sound, but we hear as we do in dreams. It all seems to be our creation, and the only awareness that counts is our own.
Listening to the voices of the forest is like waking from the dream. Every bird song or frog call comes from a creature who is right there, enjoying the same sunrise or being drenched by the same storm. Maybe your companion does a good job of staying out of sight, or maybe he’s equipped to speak his mind from a couple hundred yards away; nevertheless, you know he lives. His heart is beating along with yours, he’s gathering his breath from the same air that carries the scent of pine and wet leaves to your nose. Every sound he makes defies the power of the ghosts.
Mockingbird photo from Wikimedia Commons