The Sound of Silence

Published 6:59 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

I snuck out of the house just before dawn. Admittedly, this isn’t my favorite time of day, but if I am ever likely to get up on purpose before the sun it is at Compass Lake, between Marianna, Fla., and Panama City, Fla. I grew up sleeping on the front porch at the lake being awakened each morning, if only briefly, by the rays hitting my face. Now I look for more.

It is Labor Day and the lake is crowded with families and visitors seeking fun on the last big weekend of the summer. I ease down to the dock and get into the hammock seeing just the first hint of light over the horizon. I listen only to hear nothing; not a car, bird, boat, or plane. Just the sound of silence.

It wasn’t long before the first sound pierced the quietness. A bird of some sort, with an unfamiliar call, flies back and forth around the dock a couple of times before darting off into the mist just above the water. Another bird, more familiar this time, soon joined in the growing chorus of sounds as the light slowly began to fill the distant sky.

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The water was like glass and reflected the orange glow off the few low clouds. Soon that changed to a deeper pink and purple even though the sun still hadn’t shown its face.

A rooster crowed in the far distance behind me, then a deep throated dog from all the way across the lake. They would both continue until morning had fully arrived.

The sound of the first car on U.S. 231, a mile or so away, muffled its way through the silence, followed by the starting of another a few houses down. Soon this steady stream of traffic going and coming from the beach will become background noise, much like the wind blowing through the trees, but for now you can pick up whether it is a truck or car, going fast or slow.

A bright pink now touches the edges of the clouds just above the tree line. More birds have joined the chorus. The light is now bright enough to see the reflection of the moss in the cypress trees along the shore. The numerous flags on the docks are hanging limp without any breeze disturbing the glassy water yet.

The first fish jumping of the day startles me just at the same instant the bright sun bursts over the horizon. It sends a long orange beam over the water from the other side of the lake directly to my hammock. It looks like an inverted exclamation mark. It is now 6:31 a.m.

Unbelievably, I hear a chain saw or weed eater in the far distance. Certainly an enterprising fellow to be at work so early, although I expect the neighbors located closer to him aren’t as forgiving.

Labor Day was much different for the first 30 years of my life. It was often in the middle of peanut season. For many years it was the busiest day of the year in buying peanuts because farmers would take advantage of children being out of school and family being off from work to add additional labor in the harvest.

I had children before I ever saw Compass Lake on Labor Day. Middle August often signaled the end of summer and we usually didn’t return until May. Now it is part of our tradition as we enjoy the cooler temperatures and chilly water.

Heat pumps have replaced gas space heaters if cabins even had that. Skiers now use wet suits to enjoy the water even in the coldest part of winter. Boats that used to be towed for the weekend now are kept in boathouses where they can be lowered on a whim and the push of a button. Cable and Satellite TV allow people to watch the football games around the lake, not only in the cabins but for many on their docks.

Cell phone service is perfect with three large towers in the distance behind us. And in one of the biggest changes of all, I can lie in my hammock on the dock, write and then transmit this article to the newspapers on wireless internet without ever getting up.

It is 6:45 a.m. and I hear the first boat cranking up. It sounds like an outboard and I soon see it in the distance. It is a pontoon boat out for an early morning cruise. Not much later they drive by, a couple with a cup of coffee, making the first ripples of the day on the big lake.

The sun is now two inches high above the horizon. The sounds are beginning to surround me as the day comes alive. The deep rumble of a jet, likely training from Tyndall Air Force Base, adds its pitch to the sounds followed by yet another fish breaking the surface. Across the lake I can see the first skier, his spray shimmering in the sun, as he takes advantage of the still water.

Soon there will be pancakes on the table. Before then, I’ll continue my lifelong habit of taking a swim before breakfast. It is going to be a great day, but for just a few moments more I’ll just relax in this hammock, enjoy the slow awakening of the day and for the briefest of moments, listen to the sound of silence.