Tales of Nevada
By Slagg Ditch
Silence is the essence of this vast land of basin and range. The sounds of man rarely reach the mountain-tops or the depths of the canyons. The length of the ranges and seemingly unending reach of the valleys dilute intruding noise, which spreads and disappears in the infinitesimal quiet. One can sit on a peak for hours and listen as the sounds of nature’s creatures—the far-off cry of a hawk, the taunting laugh of a magpie, the baying of an elk—drift over the high ridges and merge with the endless sky.
When the wind rehearses in late fall, sounding from the north and swirling around the rugged peaks, it is music played by gods; fearful and in crescendo, with heralding bassoons and moaning trombones and pounding timpani. Its echo is a somber chorus of ghostly Wagnerian heroes. Being true to its report, it roars fiercely over the saddles, without pity for its living cousins, making speech between hiking companions impossible, blowing the hawk and its cry down and away, freezing the ears and face, and releasing that in-born dread of winter’s approach. There are places to go up there where the north wind always waits.
In gentler seasons the breeze blows up from far below as the sun warms the valleys, flowing softly and sweetly across the flats and mountain meadows, bringing the smell of sage and aspen and wet mountain grasses. The sound is melodic; the touch Mozartian light. On pure days, the laughing sounds of streams capture the wings of the wafting breeze and the two ride on in singing counterpoint.
Up there is where those magic moments we call the ‘lull before the storm’ await. As a foreboding sky warns of what is to come, stillness descends, so absolute that it is alive: it disrupts the living; animals cease to wander; birds fly silently. Without the distraction of the wind, the leaves of the flowers and trees reflect the light perfectly, and preternatural brilliance pervades. Time is suspended as the universe rests.
Man alone of all living creatures seems to have lost affinity for the nature that created him. He fails to sense the physical and spiritual wonder of all that surrounds and gives him life. He seldom pauses to acknowledge these times that are so natural for reflection and for contemplation of the wonders of his world.
Our ancestors celebrated at times of cosmic equilibrium—like the vernal and autumnal equinoxes—by celebrating the coming of spring and the passing death of winter, or by giving thanks for the harvest. Their joy and wonder at and knowledge of nature seem now go unsung as we blithely pursue technology and ignore its dangers. We best wake up if we are to continue to enjoy our magic mountains.
(The writer was raised in McGill and graduated from WPHS. He writes columns about Nevada for this newspaper. These are his memories of hiking alone as a young lad in the beautiful mountains of White Pine County, and what our mountains can teach us.)