Christian Grüny

A Silent Place

I never found forests particularly interesting. In the town of my childhood, they were only marginally less bland than the fields in the north and the industry in the south. We went for walks among the trees on weekends sometimes, keeping on the paths or running through the rustling leaves. It’s always fall for some reason, I don’t remember the forest in spring or summer. There might have been some snow, but snow mainly belongs to the town and the grassy slopes of the hills.

The forests I am thinking of are not very dense, the trees not very tall. There are hills and modest ravines, nothing spectacular. There is some undergrowth but it hardly ever blocks your way. There are ruins of bunkers, and there are craters, leftovers from the war, both so unremarkable that they neither promise adventure nor convey a feeling of history, at least not to me. It’s all just there. You could go walking here, but you might as well not.

The forest is silent, silent and empty. There should be birds, but it’s fall, remember, so there are only crows whose cawing enhances the silence. The squirrels make no sound. In one of the modest ravines there is something that is particularly silent, much more silent than the crows and squirrels, the trees and the leaves. It has been lying there for several days. I can see it without being there, this rather large thing on its back on the slope. It is wearing clothes that seem too light for the season, and it is very white. There should be blood but there is none, neither on the ground, at least not visibly, nor in the body that seems to belong to the forest just like everything else. Bled white. Wrists cut. Tears long dried. Is there grief on the face or relief? No agony, surely, the cuts were brief, and the bleeding like an endless breathing out, no, not endless, but without return.

He belongs to the forest. I never knew him in his home, among friends, at work, on the street, a gregarious man, funny, or so I heard, but dark also. I never knew him at all actually. He was middle-aged in a way that is no longer what middle age is like today, balding, nothing left of the slimness of his youth. But the forest is where he really belongs, where he returns to the leaves and the silence.

There was no trace of him when I was a child. The forests back then where eventless, they were empty despite the people we met. But now he, or it, is part of the forests of my childhood. Now he is there in the past, where he hadn’t been. I could have stumbled upon him when I was running, seen him in the distance, or felt his presence that wasn’t a presence at all, rather a very pronounced absence.

One is tempted to say that there is a dark place somewhere in these forests of my childhood, a black hole. But that’s not what it is at all. It is white and empty and quiet. It is drained of all color and sound just like it is drained of all life. It isn’t dark and doesn’t draw everything in like a black hole would. It is a silent place.

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