Climbing along the mountain ridge and out of the lower-altitude blended forest, I felt my shoes and clothes become saturated by dew. The piercing coolness and slight oxygen deficit merged and gave me a sense of disconnection between illusion and reality.
All around tall, straight pine trees spread their branches like a crown resting on high. This unbroken expanse of pines blocked the sun’s light from breaking through to the ground below. I stopped at a clearing where a rotten stump laid, missing its trunk, the once-mighty tree a solitary base amongst giants. Left in its wake, a gaping hole in the sheltering canopy crown allowed a ray of light into the gloomy forest.
Without warning the mountain forest suddenly transformed into a natural theater; the shaded leaf curtains pulled back, allowing for the sunshine to illuminate the clearing like a piercing spotlight, as I stood transfixed center stage. I was nothing but an inexperienced and confused figure, involuntarily pushed into the limelight. Wind wafted gracefully through the woods leaving behind fluttering leaves and swaying branches as occasional chirrups from distant birds reached my ears. The whistling of the wind in the pines, the melodious twitters; could I ask for more? The sounds of nature were truly the most beautiful sounds in the world.
The surrounding audience waited for the show to begin but there I stood, awestruck. The massive and imposing scene overwhelmed me, and took my breath away. I heard nothing but my own heart as it beat in rhythm with the sighing of die pines. In such a tranquil mountain forest neither passionate recitation nor devout chant seemed fitting.
A grand theater stood before me while the silent audience watched as I contemplated the most difficult performance of my life. Whether it turned out to be splendid or clumsy there would be no cheering or booing from the audience; merely a silence lasting for thousands of years. And yet, the silence does not mean there is no audience. In such a remote and desolate mountain forest, all of nature dominates our destiny.
It was the invisibility and profoundness of my audience that terrified me most. Scenarios ran through my mind of the inherent dangers in this vast and stunning panorama. Floods, landslides, and quicksand could effortlessly snuff out life. Wildlife such as a solitary bear or wild boar could attack and cause serious bodily injury or death. Even the brambles and insects in the woods might harm or cause illness to a living being. Back in the city hospitals and proper medical treatment are easily accessible, but in the wild there are no such facilities and injuries can easily occur by accident, bites, or attack by wildlife, if such animal feels threatened. But in this primeval forest, far from modem conveniences, a slight navigational error could lead a person down the wrong trail, and take them days to retrace their steps, not to mention getting hurt or ill.
With these dire thoughts running through my head, I could not help considering fleeing for my life. My starring role in this stage performance felt like the fate of a gladiator struggling in the coliseum. No matter how hard I might wield my fists, I would grow tired and my strength would fade. My life hung in the balance as I contemplated survival being the only thing that mattered. I stood, frozen in my shoes, not moving a muscle.
Then I slowly began to realize that this place did not belong to me—a passerby, an intruder. It dawned on me that the real performers were everything around me. My ear tuned in to the gurgling of the mountain spring as it echoed through the thick pinewood. The dew on the moss reflected sunshine and transformed it into a crystal ray of light. Chickadees chirped loudly after gathering berries. A nimble Swinhoe’s striped squirrel jumped from tree to tree. In the distance a red panda stepped on a twig making a sharp crack, and then disappeared into the billowing bamboo forest.
This was indeed a magnificent but tranquil performance whose performers coordinated with each other in no particular order. They emerged and withdrew at random. In this natural theatre, actors of all sorts harmoniously played one script, interpreting different destinies in diverse ways: the subtle movement of the ants, the tiny waving of the pine branches, the hearty singing of the chickadees, and the hurried hustle of pheasants. Nature gave them these innate roles and endowed them with a tacit mutual understanding to interact with each other.
Each sound mingled and melted together with the rest until, at last, they all went quiet, just like mixing all seven colors together to get the color white. In that moment, my personal silence allowed nature to flaunt its best. While marching down the hill, I deliberately kept quiet so as not to disturb this great performance or offend the sacred silence.