Monday, April 29, 2013

Southern Silence


I have lived all over the country, spent time overseas and visited nearby and faraway places both. Once I moved out of The South, I spent most of my time in Baltimore, Portland and southern California. The thing I missed the most was the peaceful silence the Southland provides, and the silence isn’t just about quiet nights devoid of the loud busy-ness and eternal lights of the city. Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate many things about the city – wider food selection, better entertainment choices and a diversity of people, cultures and opinions. It's just...well...every now and then, I just like for everything to slow down and be silent. It's a healthy balance. 

Starting with the mornings, I have always enjoyed waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees rather than a honking horn or traffic wreck. (I certainly enjoyed it more than waking up to the pager going off over and over again!) On mornings when I don’t have anywhere to rush off to, the soothing sound of a stream or just sitting quietly by the pond is the best meditation I know of. When I was in college, the campus was near a great waterfall coming off the Little River. It’s right up there near Mentone, AL. Actually, there are many waterfalls in that corner connecting Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. They are all beautiful. This one on Little River, though, was my sanctuary. I would make that hour long drive to just sit and listen or to pray or to cry. Whatever was going on, that river calmed me. I always felt better after spending some quiet time there. The only other river that has had that profound effect on me is the one running through a church camp in North Carolina called Living Waters. Anyone who visits that blessed place will immediately understand its appropriate name. Lastly, we also have shoreline in The South. Listening to those rhythmic waves without the extraneous addition of city sounds is like a lullaby as I fall asleep…

Sleeping in The South is blissful. The sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking are home to me. It’s especially peaceful while camping. Being out under the night stars – which you can actually see without all the competing big city lights – is gorgeous. Add to that the orchestra of the night sounds, and it’ll put you right into a deep sleep. There’s an underappreciated bonus of the Southern nights, too: the humidity. Yes, I know many people despise humidity and think of it as a downside to The South. I, however, think of it as a big ol’ hug. Those warm Southern nights wrapped in humidity and quiet darkness made me feel completely protected and safe to sleep soundly. When I was growing up, I used to go to our family’s beach house quite often. It’s in a tiny town that doesn’t even have a jiffy station (7/11, convenient store). The lack of bright businesses operating late at night made that beach so clear and beautiful – and silent. I used to walk outside under the stars and moonlight and heard nothing but the waves lapping on the shore. Some of my fondest memories are of those late night walks and when I was actually dedicated enough to get up early enough to walk in the sunrise – again, so peaceful, so quiet.

Of course, speaking of the silent South wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our unwritten rules. While it is true that everybody knows everything about everybody, we don’t talk about it – not publicly anyway. The secrets of The South are infamous – from the hidden passages used during the Civil War to the Underground Railroad. We try to keep some things under wraps – like our favorite fishing hole, a hole-in-the-wall pub where foreigners never appear, and our sweet spots for hunting. When foreigners come on down to visit, we have a way of taking them to places that are fascinating to them and seem like peeking in on the secret lives of Southerners, but we all use the same places and protect the real secrets, silently protecting our history, our treasures, our way of life. And lest I forget, we are taught from a very young age, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

The heritage of silence in The South goes back at least to when Europeans started colonizing the area. Whether we are protecting secret ingredients in our coveted Southern cuisine or staying silent on private family matters, The South has a culture of keeping its mouth shut about a lot of things. It’s one of my favorite benefits of being down here: the sweet, soulful silence of the Southland.

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