Rain. You can hear it above you, dripping limb to limb, sliding down the exposed cambium layer of a cedar or hemlock before it backs up and tumbles over rough bark. Beneath you the forest floor is spongy and firm, inches and layers of spruce needles, devils club, leaves and twigs, berries and tiny bits of what used to be living in and amongst the trees, now a thick carpet of moss and lichen and other life sprung from detritus of a rain forest.
It’s quiet here, a place filled with sounds that blend into the subconscious, where rain falls and runs down your face and you feel connected to whatever is in the middle of heaven and earth, the sky and terra firma, one with the elements. It’s a normal thing – wet, and if you lift your face and look up, suddenly the canopy is full of sound. In this place, the sound comes first and, if you’re aware, you’ll identify the mosquito you didn’t realize you were hearing, a drip from the broad leaf of devils club to the berry below and you see the sounds of this silence around you.
It’s never really quiet here; at least, not in the truer sense of the word. There is always sound, the natural quietness of being far from the noise of life one step above the animal kingdom. In these places, where water rises and falls despite clock or calendar, time means nothing except high tide, low tide, day and night. Living is going on all around, and nothing I’ve experienced yet compares to standing in a rain forest surrounded by the rich aroma of ripening, decaying, living things; gusts and storms and gentle breezes, and rain. And there’s something about a shoreline on a gray day, mists and fog and seabirds floating by, and the ripples that travel without aim to land in sunny places. I wonder about the distance of water, where the drops that wet my hand have been. Really, when you think about it, when a raindrop plops into the sea it becomes the greater liquid mass and thus claims a corporate adventure. Is there memory or residual of what occurred before, or is it inherent in each molecule, the history of time as it flows together into completeness and rains again?
Autumn. I didn’t think I’d miss the difference between that season in Southeast and what is here in the Interior, but it’s a great thing, the difference. I’m unable to reach the rain from here where it’s too cold for the kind of precipitation I’m accustomed to, have preferred til now. Here the silence is vast when you’re removed from the sound of civilization, and what lays before you is a desolation of white and lavender and blue, the colors of winter in the northland. Gone is a clear space at the foot of a tree where the green things of a season past can be found, felt, seen in familiar context. Here, frigid crystals work themselves to the surface from the inside of a thing, the absolute frozen-ness of minus-40 or even minus-50 and, well, colder. I’m amazed when, come spring, there is life at all from this place where a hazard placard might warn of conditions not conducive to life.
But here I am, and not complaining, simply noticing what is missing from the commonplace southeast Alaska life when surrounded by the vast Interior of the state. Tongass.