We were walking around the back of the garage, studying the trees to see which limbs needed to be trimmed, when he stopped suddenly, an odd look on his face -- half puzzled, half afraid, as if he'd seen the shark from 'Jaws', or maybe a White Walker, lurking at the very edge of view, both equally improbable in the Santa Cruz mountains.
"What's wrong?" I asked. His answer made me stop, and ponder what we've come to as a species.
"It's too quiet. There's no music, no cars, no sirens or construction noise. It's kind of creepy."
Creepy? I recoiled at the affront. My first impulse was to tell him just how wrong he was, how it wasn't quiet at all if you knew what to listen for. The forest is an orchestra, full of sighing trees, rustling leaves, scolding squirrels, bossy jays, and many more unique and diverse instruments. But before the words formed on my tongue, I realized that wasn't the real issue, so I swallowed them and we kept walking.
It wasn't the softness of the forest's song that had my visitor on edge. Of course he could hear it, and he knew there was sound all around him. What disturbed him wasn't what was audible, but what wasn't. There was no sound of us, our clamorous and busy tribe, making its mark on the land wherever, whenever we venture out upon it. There was no reminder of our presence, our ability -- some say our duty -- to command and remake nature to our will, nothing to indicate that we are powerful, important, or even necessary. There was only the light breeze ruffling the manzanita, a raven winging overhead and calling to its mate, and the soft crack of acorns dropping to the ground.