"yteedy qotal dol shedy qokedar chcthey otordoror qokal otedy qokedy qokedy dal qokedy qokedy skam."

Voices intrigue me. Silences even more. John Cage was a master of the form. Imagine composing music for any instrument or any combination of instruments whose only instructions were to play nothing during the three movements of the piece. "Move" ments? What moves? Only chance. The artist and the composer have no knowledge of what the audience might hear during the silences. Another brilliant composer, Benjamin Britten, has been described as "a crabby loner who specialized in composing the unspeakable". Perhaps the unspeakable referred to "man's inhumanity to boys", which could be the anthem of, among others, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the once-revered Horace Mann private school in the Bronx borough of New York.

Cage's was a silence of intent. Britten's of acts then considered unmentionable. Some silences are pregnant with meaning, like the code attached to a dead pigeon apparently sent from Nazi-occupied France during the 1944 D-Day invasion. The pigeon lay for seventy years in an unused chimney with the code attached to its leg in a red canister. It was only recently discovered by the owner of the house. Twenty-seven groups of five letters each remain indecipherable by any known authority. Even the Pigeon Museum, Britain's leading code-breaking center, confesses its utter inability to break the code.

Another kind of silence resides in languages no longer spoken, like the Indian language Chochenyo once spoken in the East Bay area of San Francisco. For some two hundred years the language lay dormant, one of eight related languages of the Ohlone people. Chochenyo was last heard in 1939 until Vincent Medina began researching his family's roots. Painstakingly he has begun to reconstruct its words, which are described as similar to "velvet sandpaper". Medina says the language was not dead, only waiting to be reawakened.

Young women in some families understand only too well the smothering silence of rejection. Looking back, I realized that I grew up in a not-now-dear town, with up so many restrictions down. It was no and not-good-enough, you'll never make it and you can't. It was why aren't you? It was be seen and not heard, glide so silently past that your moving does not even rustle the molecules in the air. It was the toxic silence of femaleness.

Another unspoken language resides currently at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Known as the Voynich Manuscript, it was discovered about one hundred years ago although it is believed to have been created in the 1400's. Generations of scholars have utterly failed to decipher it. What remains of it are roughly two hundred handwritten pages, including phrases like the title of this piece. How can any lover of the lovely resist "qokedy dal qokedy qokedy skam"? The manuscript also has hundreds of fine illustrations, but even they give no clue as to its origins. There are some enticing hints about the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, whose reign lasted from 1576 - 1611, but 150 years of silence fill the years before him. Some experts claim to recognize two authors. Others attribute it to the writings of an insane person, although a linguistics scholar sees no resemblance to any known patterns of insanity. Some as well feel that it was intended as a hoax, although that would not explain the extraordinary illustrations. It remains a complete mystery.

But mysteries seduce artists don't they? We even share impulses and urges with Alzheimers' patients, rummaging through the drawers and closets of the human soul, adventuring into the unmapped landscapes of the human mind. Our maps of interrogation bear eerie resemblances to theirs, especially in the silences. We don't know what happens in the silent synapses of an Alzheimer mind, in those large white expanses of de Kooning's late works. But as artists we do understand the investigation of silences, of those places on the map of being that others fear to visit. We incorporate negative space in the marrow of our souls. We cross the borders of insanity, clutching our visitors' passes.

So may your holiday be filled with the mystery of yteedy qotal dol shedy, and your life filled with the joys of uncovering the unknown. Who knows: we might meet each other on the way, and I would say "yteedy qotal dol shedy qokedar" and you might respond "qokedy dal qokedy qokedy skam."

c. Corinne Whitaker 2012

For more about the Voynich Manuscript visit The National Post. The dead pigeon article appeared in the Washington Post. The quotes about women and about artists and Alzheimers were written by me and published in the book and CD "Women Artists of the American West", available on Amazon.