The Noises of a Not-So-Natural World, by Wylie Feaster

As I return to Sugar Pond for my second visit, it saddens me to say that the ice from last week has not left: the pond still remains entirely frozen over, even more so than before. In the areas where motionless pools of meltwater once rested, small, elevated ridges of compacted snow have now taken shape, splitting what was once an entirely flat, frozen plain into an uneven array of jagged slopes and edges. Along the pond’s perimeter, rings of twigs and leaf litter assemble in the uniform depressions leftover from previously felled oak trees. Gauged out of the Earth by the sheer force of their collapses, each hole in the ground represents a grave − the pond, a graveyard − for natural beings that took centuries to grow, yet only seconds to topple over. I find it ironic that what once stood so high above the pond now rests for eternity submerged beneath the frozen surface, concealed from the view of even the most observant passersby.

As I begin to straddle the edge, hoping to spot a log or two suspended beneath the ice, my search carries me towards the pond’s steepest bank. Upon my arrival, I notice that the soles of my boots are no longer passing over thick swathes of snow and ice but rather an orderly assortment of cedar planks, anchored perfectly in between two sizable boulders. I had reached a bridge, the only point along the pond’s entire circumference where water is granted the chance to escape into a connecting stream. As I sit atop one of the railings, the torrents of water spewing out from the gap below the bridge create an intense reverberation, one that bounces between each of my ribs before plunging back into the frigid depths below. “Was I too becoming a part of nature’s cycle?” I thought to myself. The expression, “Now, our minds are one,” kept repeating in my head as I attempted to align my breathing with the cadence of the water droplets skittering off the rocks. Whether I succeeded or not was now the least of my concern. I was too focused on the fact that, for once during this pandemic, I truly felt at peace.

Or, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. As fast as the natural world instilled within me with a sense of newfound serenity, the continuous clatter of the non-natural world snatched it away twice as fast. In the span of the entire five minutes I spent attempting to listen to the water beneath me: a fire alarm had sounded (four repetitions meant a fire had broken out), an HVAC system behind a nearby home had whirred to life, and three deafening crashes (followed by the sounds of trucks reversing) indicated that construction down by the train tracks had just begun for the day. Yet, as much as I wanted to tune out these noises, I couldn’t. I didn’t have a choice.

Whenever I think about the goal of our journal assignments, to “[engage] with the noise[s] of the world,” I cannot help but also think about the noises that helped colonize this country. From the gunshots that tore through the flesh of innocent Indigenous men and women to the crackling of crop fields set ablaze by army troops, America represents a nation founded from the commotion caused by barbaric violence and total war. When a singular shot from a confiscated Worcester rifle misfired, the lives of 300 defenseless Lakota Sioux individuals were claimed as quickly as the soldiers who killed them could mount their machine guns into place.

The noise of the world had overcome them. Just like the great oak trees I had searched for earlier, their downfalls took with them centuries of Indigenous knowledge, growth, and wisdom, all erased within a matter of minutes. Yet, still today, we are rarely ever exposed to what truly happened at Wounded Knee, the massacre, the bloody mutilation of hundreds of innocent lives. We make up excuses. “It simply doesn’t align with the white American perspective,” we say.

As I begin my trek home, just a stone’s throw away, I think I’m finally starting to understand why the pond freezes over every winter. It’s not because of the frigid outside temperatures or some reaction that occurs between the air and the water. No, the pond freezes over in order to shield itself from the noises of the world. I often wish I could do the same.

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