During the day, there is a lot of talk. Talk you hear, talk you read out loud in your head. Like it or not, you read a lot of things you wish you didn’t have to, could skip, could avoid. Still, you take it in. It’s exhausting. It wears you down, not just mentally, but physically.
So tonight, after dinner with my editor, which was a deep and soul-filled discussion, I walked back home. It was dark, and I was alone, but not scared. Phoenix is interesting. The downtown grew up around its neighborhoods. One way home was along a busy street, lots of cars, street lights. The other way was zig-zagging through a neighborhood. I chose the neighborhood.
Turning off my mind, I walked home, just listening. Abandoned my audiobook for the city at night. Surprisingly, I did not hear a single human speaking during the whole walk home.
I saw six airplane lights in the sky, lined up to land at Sky Harbor.
I saw three stars, scattered across the sky.
I saw that I had two shadows: a long, skinny one and a shorter fatter one. They followed me home till I hit a stretch where the street lights were out.
The dark place where the street lights were out was not scary, and I was not scared. A dog barked. A light rail train went by in the distance, clanging. Two FedEx trucks pulled into the back entrance of the 24-hour FedEx store.
I walked in the middle of the road, because in this neighborhood, everyone is home and inside. No cars careening down the streets.
Except the middle-aged couple, sitting in the back of a pickup truck, drinking beer and laughing softly.
The space between houses feels cooler than the space in front of the house.
Someone was smoking a cigarette. I could smell it, but not see the smoker or the glow.
A mixed feeling of excitement and worry and laughter was carried on a patch of warmer air. I stopped and waited till I could smell chalk and rubber mats. I was passing behind the elementary school.
Two homeless people were exploring a dumpster next to a restaurant. A small cry of triumph means they found something to eat. Maybe a few single bills will help them get something safe to drink, too. I put my fingers on my lips and they shook my hand instead of speaking.
I made it all the way home without hearing a single human speak. But the night was alive with sounds, with action, with working, with lives being lived.
There’s a lot to be said for quiet. I’m glad no one said it while I was out in the silence.
—-Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist and writer.