Blackwood of Rannoch

Howling Deer

A journey towards true silence

Year by year, I have grown in familiarity with them all. But if the whole truth of them is to be told as I have found it, I too am involved. I have been the instrument of my own discovering; and to govern the stops of the instrument needs learning too. Thus the senses must be trained and disciplined, the eye to look, the ear to listen, the body must be trained to move with the right harmonies. I can teach my body many skills by which to learn the nature of the mountain. One of the most compelling is quiescence. (Shepherd, [1977] 2014)

It took me three journeys to finally be able to truly explore Blackwood of Rannoch, a Caledonian forest in Scottish Highland, without panicking for losing my sense of direction. Blackwood is a mixture of woodland, heath, bog and creek. There is no obvious path, so every step has to be a cautious decision making. For example, it is difficult to avoid disturbing any living thing because lichen and moss occupy most of the surface on everything, and it is even more difficult to avoid having water in one’s boots because usually that is the only way out when one is trapped in a boggy area accidentally. I always end up with my feet cold and wet and my socks all brown from the colour of peat water.

During my third visit, I walked and walked, looking for traces of life meanwhile trying to follow the water. This was an awfully quiet forest, I thought. There was no sound from insect or any other animal, although I did see some faeces spreading like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. The loudest sounds were my intense breath and thousands of thoughts speaking simultaneously in my head. My mind was swelled with my own conscious, which did not allow me to receive any message from outer world. I could not simply shut my brain down with a switch for it was more like a wave which has its own movement and can only be guided by indirect forces.

I started to stay in a field further away from creek, to be surrounded by trees. The subtle sound of forest finally appeared after the voices of human and water had vanished. After a while, the breeze stopped, and I could no longer heard the voice of trees. It was the first time I encountered a true silence. It was broad, deep, and not like something that belong to this world. I felt like an intruder breaking this tranquility. I tried really hard no to move at all because even the slightest movement sounded like a loud declaration of my interfering. After a longer while, the smell of forest suddenly came to me. It was mild and gentle, embedded in the air until I was finally ready. I was surprised by the arrival of sense which could be both so immediate and so delayed, and its requirement for one’s ability to become a container. All of a sudden, a stag howled distantly.

The sound pierced the air like an arrow, and it was so loud, louder than it actually was.

Shepherd, N., [1977] 2014. The Living Mountain. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Footprint of an large animal in Blackwood of Rannoch.

Footprint of an large animal in Blackwood.

Blackwood of Rannoch
I tried to record the silence in Blackwood of Rannoch.

The Blackwood forest.  I tried to record the silence in it but failed because I kept making sound whenever I moved, however slightly.