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Don’t Speak Unless You’re Spoken To


“Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”

Blood ties and public educators actually said that to me as a child. Often. My older brother was repeatedly reprimanded for adding to classroom discussions without first raising his hand. So I did what most New Englanders did. I dummied up.

“I’m not quiet. Everybody else is too loud.” —John Entwistle

In college I was friends with a long-hair from upstate New York named Todd. He was one of those sleeper athletes. Thoughtful. The anti-braggart. You’d never know he’d been the star quarterback of his high school team—till you saw him ski breakable crust. At parties we would stand silently as Dakota Sioux—less self-conscious than content in not hearing our own voices.

“Idiot wind. Blowing every time you move your teeth.” —Bob Dylan

Up in northern Vermont a “Mornin’” and a “By Jim it’s a hot one Mr. Man,” can stand as an entire day’s soliloquy. This is why Shakespeare moved Hamlet from the Northeast Kingdom to Elsinore.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” —Mark Twain

That’s how I carried myself until I moved to Montana and a strange thing happened. On mountain bike trails and hiking paths, ski lodges and whitewater streams, strangers ignored my silence and stoic jaw and talked to me. After a few months I learned to occasionally talk back. And later I would even speak when I wasn’t spoken to. A professor told me that it was a Western trait. Conversing to fill the void of open spaces. But I think people in Montana are just more generous with their existence.

“Hell isn’t other people. Hell is yourself.­—Ludwig Wittgenstein

Now I live in Boulder, Colorado, where as naively as Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, I routinely say hello to fellow dog walkers on quiet sidewalks in bright air—and don’t often get a “Mornin’” in reply. Cyclists won’t return a wave. Skiers tuck into hoods wired for sound. Coffee shop employees won’t crease a smile. This is not the comfortable silence of the north, it’s a community distilled into selves. And it’s enough to beat you back into a lonely solipsism.

“But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools.” —Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia

But then I spent a few weeks this summer in Crested Butte, Colorado, where I was reminded that we’re sharing this time on earth. And that it’s OK to say hello when we’re bouncing around the void.

Marc Peruzzi, Editorial Director, Mountain

Rider: Ian Eldridge | Location: Snodgrass Trail, Crested Butte, CO | Photographer: Dave Cox

From the Summer 2015 issue.

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