The Miracle of the Silence

29th Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes
July 1-7, 2000, Beaverhead Forest, Montana


What is the sound of twenty thousand people
holding one silence?

It’s louder than the brother camped behind me
who hears silence
as a challenge and bellows out
his battle cry—
louder than the barking watchdog tied at his camp—
louder than the four small airplanes
that fill the sky
with their lonely circling, their noisy longing
to join us—
louder than the one deaf drummer
in the distance
who never even heard of silence—
louder even than the children congregating
at Kid Village
to be painted for their parade (their screams
of laughter or frustration
high homage
to the Mother and Father of all that lives . . .)

What is this miracle so many
have gathered in this dry mountain meadow
to listen for?

It’s the silence
that was here before we came, the silence
that will remain
when we have broken up these trails and gone—
the silence
of herds of caribou, bison, elk
who have ceded this valley to an army
of cattle, the silence
of mountain grasses that surrendered
to the invading sage—
it’s the silence of the Bitterroot Range,
the snowy divide
where rain and meltwater start for the Pacific
or the Mississippi,
looking down on this overgrazed rangeland
ringed with clearcuts
that we have claimed for Home
(but it’s also
the scrape of a shovelblade
digging through the glacial till of the Rockies
for a slit latrine,
hard work with this tin entrenching tool . . .)

Who has ever heard the hush
from dawn till noon
of every language and dialect
of the most talkative species on Earth?

It is my own
inner silence
before the music of Creation,
contemplating the microscopic
of the dirt beneath my knees,
the endless transmigrations of the clouds,
breathing the sacred
incense of the sage and pondering
a silence of sunlight and thunder,
of friendly raindrops that wet down the dust,
falling soundlessly
out of bright clear sky to speckle the path
before me (vast wild
skyscapes and snowpeaked vistas
looming over every shoulder, no matter who
I hug . . .)

What is the sound of high noon
in this cathedral
where no church towers chime,
temple of ten thousand Millenniums?

It’s the overlappping ripples of a distant
chant of Om
as a multi-colored cluster
breaks open like a seed and sends out shoots
that blossom
into random segments of a circle—
it’s those rippling rainbow arcs of people
holding hands
breaking up and moving back
and re-connecting
again and again until suddenly I stand squinting
a quarter-mile across
to my counterpart on the other side—
it’s the silence
that goes on and on
across the meadow till the Children’s Parade
arrives (though
the circle’s several ends never absolutely
meet, and the chant
never travels all the way around, still . . .)

What is this peace that passes understanding
hand to hand around our slowly forming,
dissolving and expanding,
never quite unbroken circle?

It’s the silence of the wind playing with a kite,
someone on a parasail
playing with the wind, the cold creeping in
with the shadowline
against the precious gold of sun—
it’s that clear, ancient silence
of stars unfurling
like the spanged banner of infinity,
glittering in the treetops
while the watch-fires burn along the ridgecrest
and the crescent moon grins
more brightly each night
(but it’s also the chorus of drums
from two different campfires
on either side of the hill behind Info
beating in unison, keeping one
through the silence
between random love-calls across the night . . .)