The Quiet Of The Morning

I woke up at about 4 a.m. this morning, which is earlier than normal.  I tried to go back to sleep, hoping for another hour or so of shut-eye, but after tossing and turning for 15 minutes and realizing I was wide awake, I decided to yield to the inevitable, get up, and enjoy the quiet of the morning.

I like sleep as much as the next person, but I also don’t really mind those days when absolute wakefulness comes early.  Mornings are definitely a special time here.  It is so quiet that your ears almost begin to ache as they search for any hint of a sound, and the thrum of a car on a distant street heading toward the harbor, or the cawing of a crow in one of the neighborhood trees, seems almost deafening.  The headlights of pick up trucks turning onto the road toward Greenhead Lobster flitter briefly across the walls, and there is a faint taste of salt in the pre-dawn air.  After last night’s rain, the sky was clear as crystal, with the morning constellations at first standing out brightly against the broad sweep of the Milky Way, and then hanging on to the west before being overwhelmed as the first glimmers of daylight emerge to the east and the dim outlines of the rocks below our deck start to emerge from the nighttime gloom. 

Mornings are a good time to stand outside and enjoy the silence and then to putter about, straighten things up, put the dishes away, turn to some random Mozart on the Idagio app, and enjoy that first steaming cup of coffee and the coolness of the air.  On mornings like this you need to relish the moment and let all of the senses run free.  I’ll be more tired than normal tonight, for sure, but for now I will enjoy the quiet of the morning.   

A Conspiracy Of Silence And Hypocrisy

The Harvey Weinstein story is an appalling one.  The reports of Weinstein’s behavior related by women in articles published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other publications are horrific.  Those stories tell us a lot about the ugly sexual realities of the Hollywood and film-making world — and they also tell us a lot about the quality of the people who work there.

ox281266930182248439It’s pretty clear that a lot of people knew of Weinstein’s behavior and had heard stories about him.  They were aware, at least, that there were indications that he had repeatedly engaged in aggressive sexual propositioning and grossly inappropriate behavior, even if they credited his claims that his ultimate sexual liaisons were all “consensual” rather than criminal.  Some people obviously knew more, and were involved in either helping to identify young women for Weinstein to target or in quashing or covering up the terrible stories that are only now surfacing, years later.  And yet, none of these people evidently said anything, or did anything, to stop Weinstein’s behavior, and he continued to show up on the red carpet for the awards shows and work in the Hollywood community and win awards and gain accolades and get his picture taken with grinning movie stars without having to answer for his conduct or suffer any consequences.  It’s a sad and disgusting commentary about the lack of ethical, principled, decent, courageous people who would be willing to endure potential repercussions in order to do what they know is right.

Lena Dunham wrote a piece for the New York Times about her experiences with sexism in Hollywood and the silence of men in the wake of the Weinstein scandal.  I don’t always agree with Lena Dunham, but she’s right in this instance.  I’m guessing, though, that the awareness of Weinstein’s behavior went beyond his unfortunate victims and men, and included women as well.  They all engaged in a conspiracy of silence — and also a conspiracy of the rankest kind of hypocrisy.  Those of us out in “flyover country” are frequently lectured by the Hollywood stars about what we should be doing, what we should be thinking, or who we should be supporting — but it certainly appears that at least some of those Hollywood stars cravenly didn’t act in accordance with their stated beliefs when it counted.  Maybe they just lack any personal courage, or maybe they’re concerned only about themselves and their next movie, or maybe they didn’t believe what they were saying in the first place and said it only because that’s what was written on the script.

I’ll remember the awful Weinstein story the next time I see a public service announcement featuring Hollywood stars or other celebrities lecturing us on how to conduct ourselves.  In the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the hypocrisy it exposes, why should anyone credit anything a Hollywood star has to say about the world?

Silent Justice

In a loud and loquacious world, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has earned a reputation for his silence.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Thomas almost never speaks.  In fact, his statements during oral argument are so rare that, when he does ask a question or make a comment, it becomes news and is covered even on overseas websites like the BBC.  That’s what happened this week, when Thomas made his first statement during an oral argument since February 22, 2006.  In short, he hadn’t spoken at an oral argument for almost seven years.  On Monday, his comment apparently was a joke about lawyers from different law schools that caused some of the other Justices to laugh.

Thomas doesn’t think he needs to ask questions during oral argument to do his job — and he’s right.  He reads the briefs submitted by the parties, votes on whether cases should be accepted for review by the Court, writes majority opinions, concurrences, and dissents, handles the other duties of a Supreme Court Justice, has developed a very consistent (and very conservative) judicial philosophy . . . and gives an occasional speech, besides.  The other Justices bombard the attorneys who argue before the Court with questions and, many legal scholars believe, pose the questions not to hear the answers, but rather to communicate with and attempt to persuade other members of the Court.  Thomas thinks that lawyers should be able to present their arguments without constant interruptions, so he stays silent during oral argument.  Who’s to say which approach is the right one?

I admire Justice Thomas for his willingness to buck the prevailing trend and follow his own approach.  I also respect anyone who, in our texting, talking, e-mailing, communication-saturated culture, somehow manages to keep his own counsel.

Absolute, And Satisfying, Silence

Of all of the pleasures I took away from my visit to Lake Temagami, none was more profound than enjoying moments of absolute quiet.

Lake Temagami is a remote location, ringed with trees that start at the water line and extend back to the horizon.  We were visiting long after tourist season had ended.  As a result, it was possible to stand on the shore of our island and hear . . . nothing.  Not a boat motor or a dog barking in the distance.  Not the background noise of traffic or the hum of electrical devices.  And, because it is well out of cell phone range and the place we were staying had no television, not a ringing telephone or the drone of the TV.  You could listen carefully — as carefully as your ears would allow — and detect only the complete absence of any noise.

It was like being present at the dawn of the world, with a silence vast and deep that touched the soul.  I enjoyed walking around our island, sitting on a rock or a fallen tree, and drinking in that awesome stillness. When you look at this picture taken on the island, try to imagine seeing that vista without so much as a breath or whisper of sound.

A Walk In The Woods

The Homestead grounds include several fine walking and hiking trails.  On Friday I took a hike on the South Trail to get some exercise and enjoy the beauty of a warm springtime day in the woods.

The trail promptly took me almost directly up the hillside, and almost immediately the huge Homestead building disappeared from view.  The path meandered through the trees, not really going to any particular place, and not in a particular hurry to get there anyway.   The destination was pretty much irrelevant — it was the journey itself that mattered.

Along the way I paused to admire a lichen-stained granite rock, the rusty color of a decaying tree stump, and the rushing of a nearby stream.  Old trees had fallen and new trees were vying to take their place.  Leaves were just getting ready to bring their color to the trees.

Although I love my music, I didn’t take my iPod along.  There are times when music can only interfere with your appreciation of your surroundings.  You march along, focused on one of your favorite songs, and you miss the rustle of a nearby squirrel through fallen leaves, or the smell of the clean, fresh air, or the look of sunshine filtering through the branches far overhead.

A walk through the woods shouldn’t be done to the accompaniment of a workout mix.  A hike is exercise, sure, but it should be something more.

The trail was deserted, and it didn’t take long for me to be swallowed up by the silence and leave the sounds of civilization in my wake.  Our lives are lived to a soundtrack of humming air conditioners and heaters, road noise, and human voices.  We are so used to being immersed in noise that its absence has an almost physical impact.  You notice the silence and feel a sense of wonder about it, and when you hear the chirping of a bird break that awesome silence, the birdsong is as pure and beautiful as any sound you have heard before.