On impulse, I take down a book from the shelves over my desk, an anthology called Soul, compiled by Phil Cousineau. I haven't looked at it for years, if ever. I have a vague memory of why I have it. A freebie from the publisher, in acknowledgment of a contribution.
As I might expect, my contribution is a selection from The Soul of the Night, although I'm not at all sure what this particular passage, from the first chapter of the book, has to do with soul. It is about silence. About drifting in my canoe through a New England marsh during those few quiet weeks in November between the dins of trail bikes and snowmobiles. I mention Thoreau at Walden Pond, whose silence was only interrupted by the whistle of the Fitchburg railroad and the hoot of owls. Thoreau rejoiced in owls. Their hoot was a sound well suited to swamps and twilight woods, he said. The interval between their hoots was a deepened silence, suggesting "a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized."
I guess it was something of that "vast and undeveloped nature" that I was looking for as I drifted alone through the marsh, something immanent, yet transcendent. Something -- well, maybe, soulish. Something ensouling. I wrote:
I drift in my canoe down the Queset Brook and I listen, ears alert, like an animal that sniffs a meal or a threat on the wind, I am not sure what it is that I want to hear out of all this silence, out of this palpable absence of sound. A scrawny cry, perhaps, to use a phrase of the poet Wallace Stevens: "A scrawny cry from outside…a chorister whose c preceded the choir…still far away." Is that too much to hope for? I don't ask for the full ringing of the bell. I don't ask for a clap a thunder that would rend the veil in the temple. A scrawny cry will do, from far off there among the willows and the cattails, from far off there among the galaxies.That was almost thirty years ago. I'm still listening, for the whisper in the silence. For the ineffable intimation. For that lower-case c, for that hint in the ellipsis. Hoot…hoot.