Quiet

January 24, 2009

The most striking thing, at first, is the silence: you realize it’s never quiet in Los Angeles, though you don’t necessarily notice when you’re there. Sirens, helicopters, trash trucks, music, voices – they’re always there, invading you, surrounding you. Beneath it is the flow of cars that, from the right distance, becomes a river, endless. You swim through the thickness of the sound until it’s just like walking, like it’s not there at all.

Last year I went on a very long ramble around San Francisco with my friend Jeremy. He had his new camera with him and I had a voice recorder. Whenever he took a picture I recorded 15 or 20 seconds of sound; whenever I heard a sound I wanted to record he took a picture. Later he put it together and posted it on his website. I was a little surprised to find that pretty much all the pictures sounded the same: like cars. I guess I’d stopped hearing them.

It’s not as hard as I’d thought to get out of LA and away from its noises. We got up early yesterday and by 9:30  were high in the mountains, above 5000 feet and surrounded by snow. (Down in the basin the high was supposed to be 86.) Everywhere we looked were more mountains and wild rocky outcroppings. Through the gaps the distant desert shimmered. We passed a few ski lifts that were not running. There were no people or cars anywhere.

We drove as far and high as we could. At the barrier closing the road for the winter we turned back and then stopped at the last trailhead we’d seen. When we got out of the car the silence was deafening.

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