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The Sound of Silence

Sharing the beauty of true solitude.
Written by Barbara Rodriguez. Photographs by Michael Witte.

Illustration by Michael Witte

I grew up in a family devoted to road-trips, but they were not just a vacation thing. Weekends often found us heading out to nowhere in particular, assured that my mother or father would find something of interest to share with us along the way.

I’m remembering those days as my husband and I travel with our eight-year-old son, Elliott, for a weekend of apple picking in orchards around Lubbock. It’s a long trip from Fort Worth to the Caprock, but one that soothes me. When civilization drops away and the world becomes a bigger, quieter place, I sigh with contentment.

As we continue our journey, a high-stepping roadrunner paces us when, just past Duffy’s Peak, I remark that listening to the silence is what makes the wide-open spaces of Texas so special to me. Elliott says he just doesn’t get it. I order the car pulled over. “You need to be still and listen,” I say to my son. He screws up his face and closes his eyes for about 10 seconds. His eyes pop open and he says he doesn’t know what it is he hears. “That’s silence,” I tell him.

“But how can you hear silence?” he wants to know. I say: “Well, because it really isn’t silent. It’s full of all sorts of sounds you can hear for the first time because of all the sounds you aren’t hearing.” My explanation leaves him shaking his head. At a scenic overlook on a very empty Farm Road 211, he comes up with the solution. “Leave me here,” he says. “Alone.”

We negotiate terms that will allow him the illusion of being alone in the wilderness. He will take a seat at the edge of the turnout, and we will climb in the car and pull out of the stop, but only a short distance. We will still be able to see him.

We cut the engine and Elliott turns to face the wide-open expanse. With no machine or human, nor even a power line or train track in his sightlines, he will have the sense he is alone among the red rocks and sailing hawks. I am only 20 feet away from him, but something about his little back framed by so much open space makes my heart beat a bit faster. We sit and watch him as he sits and watches. Ten minutes pass very slowly. No other car passes. He never looks back. He never stirs. Then, in a completely unexpected gift, two deer jump the fence just feet from him. We all shake our heads as if waking from a dream.

“Wahoo!” Elliott shouts as we roll in to pick him up. “Let’s do it again!”

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