Erling Kagge really did a number on our thoughts. Towards the end of last year, he was hard to miss. You could read about him in newspapers and other media, follow his interviews on TV, or meet him during the book fair.
Some of us often come across silence and walking on one of our numerous solitary wanderings in pursuit of the perfect photograph, perfect tree, perfect flower, or perfect self.
For me, the sound of silence has at least as many faces as my small and big journeys. Each of them has taught me something; each of them has given me its own message. Every trip sounded differently.
Kurile Lake, Kamchatka, 2019.
It’s 4.30 in the morning. In the dark, I find the kitchen, turn on the gas, and put the kettle on. The bubbling sound, signalling that coffee needs to be added, brings me back to the moment. I pour the deliciously fragrant black liquid into my thermos and step outside. The view of the Ilyinsky volcano opens before my eyes: nearly shrouded in darkness, the silhouette of this stratovolcano slowly emerges through the clouds and fog. Every now and then, a bear comes along. The silence is not deafening, far from it; at times, the wind howls loudly, and you can hear the waves of the lake splashing on the shore. I do feel peace in my heart, though. Throughout the day, the same location is filled with the sunny, loud babble of people from all over the world, anxious to see a bear. A loud shriek of joy cuts through the air as they manage to catch the first glimpse of a charismatic furry creature. Only when the last helicopter leaves the scene, and when everybody else crawls back into their tents, silence once again reigns over the landscape. This is when I like to sit on the shore of the Kurile Lake. I sit, and I listen. At times, one of the guides will grab their guitar to play a lullaby for the bears. Despite the gentle plucking of strings, I still call it silence, especially as the first star winks down at me from the evening sky.
Fairbanks, Alaska, 2003.
It's well after midnight. I am packing my stuff in the guest room of my host Christa. I had a long journey ahead of me the following day. Before going to bed, I catch one last glimpse through the window. High in the sky, the moon is shining. Its glow is incredibly inviting. Obviously, I grab my photographic equipment and go out into the garden. Christa’s home is basically located in the middle of a forest: a fairy-tale wooden house with a wonderful forest backdrop. As I’m taking a photograph of the moon in the sky, I hear a crackling sound. It’s probably squirrels having a party in the forest, or maybe a moose that I just haven’t seen yet. It doesn’t matter. The snapping of twigs caught my attention and made me look around even more carefully. Into the forest, and out towards the sky. Suddenly, a gentle violet glow colours the sky, followed by a light green sheen, and a powerful, shiny green flutter. I don’t know how long it lasted; back then, I wasn’t even sure it was really happening. I felt like I could hear the screaming of swans caught in ice, as some peoples like to call the northern lights or the aurora borealis. I felt like I was caught in a dream. It wasn’t until a month later, as I developed my slides, that I finally understood that all of it was true.
Kočevski Rog, 2016.
An English couple joins me on my hike: they are elderly, and you can see it in their eyes that they love the forest and the silence. They were one of the first few people who made me realise that our landscape is also interesting for other people. As we’re walking, we discuss the forest, the virgin forest, life, and death: in these parts, they are both extremely connected and omnipresent.
We reach the edge of the virgin forest and stop. In that moment, every word is redundant. As my guests are taking in everything I love so dearly, the man asks me if he can share his favourite poem with me.
It sounds exactly like what we’ve all been experiencing in that moment: connection, eternity, rebirth, life.
These were my first “escapes”. Perched atop my bike, wearing my new rubber boots, I often left my student residence in the dark, with my photographic equipment on my back. Through the fog, I followed my motivation and the footsteps that brought me on interesting paths. At times, I got lost, but I luckily found my way back home. I discovered interesting people and experienced magnificent moments. I was so happy when I first saw a whole field of snake heads, with a white one peeking through the violet carpet every now and then. And the night I got to listen to corncrakes sing... just the sound of some bucks, quails, and corncrakes. When I had some free time during my studies, I often made a stop in Podpeč. That’s where Bine’s wooden hut stood. I also found him quite unexpectedly, during one of my wanderings through the marshes. He didn’t have much in terms of material goods, but his greatness exceeded material belongings. One day, as I was clearing out my head during the preparation of my PhD thesis, I went to see him. He was sitting on a bench and drawing on a canvass stretched in front of him. “Oh, my little Petra!” He was happy to see me. I sat down next to him and watched him draw. Even though he never had any formal artistic education, he was a masterful sketch artist. His art came from his soul, from himself; from his silence. Once, after my “Alaskan rebirth”, he was waiting for me with a wooden plank. “I took it out of the ashes,” he said while holding it out for me. Onto the plank, he had drawn a mighty waterfall, jagged mountains, the face of an old man, and a little girl. “That’s you,” he said, indicating the little girl. Then, he moved to the old man depicted on the plank: “And that's Asclepius; he will protect you, so you no longer have to hold on to the edge.”
Bine has been keeping company with the almighty gods among the stars for a couple of years now. Yet I know he pays me a visit every time I wander around the marshes. In silence.
The common denominator of all these sounds of silence is probably inner peace. Heartfelt joy. That is what silence is for me. And, also, the yearning for it. Even now, as I live through these moments once more, nothing else exists. I can be there, even if I’m really in the middle of a busy city street, or at a party with the sounds of an accordion echoing through the night.
Text and photos: Petra Draškovič Pelc, PhD
dr. Petra Draškovič Pelc
Born in the Slovene Štajerska, she chose to live in Kočevje and the mere thought of adventures in the wild nature of Alaska gets her heart racing like a wild animal. She enjoys silence, peace and the beauty of the light-flooded wilds of all the untouched corners of the world, as well as the beauty of her local Kočevje-area and Slovenia. She is an enthusiastic traveler, a curious admirer of nature, a tourist guide, author of countless articles in Slovenia as well as abroad and a doctor in biomedical science, who found her calling in (natural scientific) photography. Throughout her work with ARS NATURAE she tries to express love towards nature and its preservation.