Time and Space 🔗
Israel is a relatively hot and humid country. Uncomfortably hot and humid. And yet, I love the summer and vastly prefer it over the winter, no matter how sweaty and uncomfortable it is. I love the summer because I love the sun. During the day, I need to get as much sun as I can. I need the house to be bursting with light. I need to feel the rays of the sun on my skin.
This isn't surprising, of course. Sunlight is important to our physical and mental health (not that I claim to be mentally healthy), apart from the fact that it literally gives us life. But it is a bit surprising on a personal level, because the fact is that I am not a day person. I am one of those idiots who go to sleep incredibly late and wake up ridiculously late.
By the time I go to sleep, most people are at the last stages of their sleep, and by the time I wake up, most people have already had their morning workout, breakfast, commute to work, a few hours of work, and are starting to feel a little hungry and thinking about lunch. That's when I finally drag myself out of bed.
And for most of the day, I'd be groggy, tired or outright falling asleep. I'd be day dreaming of my bed, imagining the feeling of the mattress below my body and the blanket above it.
But then, somewhere around 22:00, a curious thing will happen: a burst of energy will suddenly come forth, and all feelings of tiredness and thoughts of sleep will go away. That's when my day actually begins.
But I don't want to get too much into this, because it's actually lateral to what this post is about.
The thing is, I have tried many times to get myself into a more conventional schedule. It never stuck. Sooner or later, I would find myself going back to sleep at 02:00, 03:00, 04:00 or sometimes even 05:00.
In Israel, it is common to call the small hours of the night (generally 01:00 to 06:00) "pre-morning" (לפנות בוקר). My schedule has gotten so ridiculous that I started calling the hours of 07:00 to 10:00 "pre-morning" as a joke. Everybody knows not to try to get in touch with me during those hours.
Whenever the stars align enough to have me awake and outside around 05:00 to 07:00 (say, getting back home after a red-eye flight), I am always amazed by all the people who are already up and about. Who the hell are these people? What are they doing outside?
It's like there's a shift change somewhere around 04:00. You see, if a day person would find themselves awake and outside at 01:00 or 02:00, they'd probably be amazed at all the weirdos who are still up and about, walking the streets like it's lunchtime, giving no indication that they're in any hurry to go to sleep. And you'd be surprised what they'll be doing. Eating large dinners, working out, fixing their cars, hanging out at kiosks (which is what we call small conveniece/grocery stores in Israel), whatever.
In the TV show How I Met Your Mother, Ted famously says that "nothing good ever happens after 2 am. When it's after 2 am, just go to sleep." Well, that's not true, because around 03:00, something magical happens: the world turns quiet.
My mother hates the quiet. Can't stand it. If she's alone, she must have the radio or TV on to fill the quiet. If she's not alone, then a conversation must take place. If it's quiet for more than a few seconds, she gets antsy. Sad. Even angry.
I'm different. I love the quiet; it is beautiful, soft, easy, relaxing, comforting. Walking or driving around aimlessly at 03:00 is practically therapeutic, a moving form of meditation.
I'm not afraid of my thoughts. I don't need some sounds to fill some void. I'm not looking to distract myself from my own mind. In fact, I'm trying to run away from all the noise: the news channels that keep proclaiming the impending doom of our country, bringing today's selection of politicians/commentators to yell at each other, accusing each other of destroying everything; The reality TV shows, trying to make the baking of a pie into a thriller, blasting what can only be described as war songs in the background for dramatic effect, raising my blood pressure and heart rate for no reason; The radio stations, playing their static, pre-approved playlist of 12 depressing songs in an infinite loop; the commercials with their jingles, competing which company releases the most annoying one possible. No thanks, I'll take the quiet, please.
That's why 03:00 is such a magical time. You don't need to ask anyone to be quiet. You don't need to run away from anything. You don't need noise canceling headphones. It's naturally quiet. It's just the way it is. It's one of those small things that make life beautiful.
So, there's quiet, but there's also silence. The two are very different. While quiet is soft and relaxing, silence is powerful, overwhelming, deafening. It is so extremely rare that I'm not sure everybody gets to actually experience it.
Quiet is a matter of time. You don't need to go anywhere to find it, you just need to be awake at the right time. Silence, on the other hand, is a matter of space. You won't find it in the city, no matter the time.
The first place I truly experienced silence was in British Columbia, Canada, back in 2015. It wasn't 03:00, it was around 14:00. I was in Yoho National Park, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, hiking a trail called Emerald Basin Trail.
The trail started out from Emerald Lake, an incredibly beautiful lake of vivid turquoise color, 1200 meters above sea-level. It led up through lush forests and wound itself for a long way until it descended and suddenly broke free of the forest and emerged into Emerald Basin, a rocky basin where water from heavy rains and snow creates two small streams that eventually feed the lake. As I made my way up the trail, I encountered quite a few fellow hikers, but their numbers dropped as the trail continued, until finally I saw no one else.
While the trail basically ends a short distance after the forest, and hikers are supposed to turn back and retrace their steps, there's yet more to be seen. Away in the distance, just above the summit of an extremely rocky hill, the tops of two waterfalls are just barely visible.
Climbing up and up over the rocks, I made my way towards the falls. Just as I was getting close, a man in a black leotard and a blue jacket tied to his waist came running from behind me. He looked to be in his early forties. We exchanged a few words, and he went back on his way, running towards the falls, leaping from rock to rock like it was nothing.
A few minutes later, I caught up with him and reached the waterfalls myself. By then I was high up above the forest I had left before. The two waterfalls came down slowly from a tall cliff, splashing down quietly into the ground and becoming the two streams that make their winding way far away into the lake. The falls were actually much taller than it looked, as the hill abruptly broke right there, becoming its own cliff of sorts, so the waterfalls' terminus was actually down below me.
After getting my fill of viewing the falls, I turned my back to them and went to find a good looking rock to sit down on and grab a bite to eat. From where I was sitting, I couldn't even hear the splash of the falls.
As I sat there, I surveyed my surroundings. Straight downslope below me, in the distance, was the rocky basin with the two streams. In front of me, a bit above my eye line, were beautiful snowy mountain peaks, with what remained of an ancient glacier frozen between the leftmost two. To my right and below, the trees of the forest appeared small in the distance. To my left, the cliff of the waterfalls made a sharp turn and closed in over me. Basically, I was cornered.
As I sat down to eat my trail mix, the jogger was making his way back down to the basin. As he was jogging away, getting farther and farther down the slope, he became smaller and smaller. For a few moments, I felt like I was in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, for some reason. After some time, his tiny shape finally disappeared, and that was it, I was completely and entirely alone for miles and miles in every direction.
That was when I felt it. The silence. Let me tell you something, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The silence isn't something you hear (or not hear), it's something you feel. It's all around you. It's heavy and powerful, almost crushing your ears. You feel it in your bones.
I sat down there in that silence, overwhelmed by it all, incredulous that it was really happening. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and experienced.
That wasn't the only time I got to feel that silence. There were more places, other trails in other parks, mostly in the US. But that one was the most special. I guess it's in those grandiose and remote places where true silence makes its home.
To this day, I sometimes remember back into that moment, and picture myself sitting there up on that hill, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, all alone in perfect silence. I wish I could be back there.
But the quiet streets of 03:00 are good too, I guess.