I once read a book that opened with the main character, a twentieth century man, finding himself thrust into ninth century Europe. Once he regained his orientation and realized there was no place to go for a stiff drink, he took stock of his surroundings. One of the first peculiarities he noticed was the absence of noise. Not the absence of birds chirping, crickets buzzing, or the wind soughing in the trees – those sounds were there. It was the absence of the background hum he said existed in his own time.
That observation struck me with its originality and astuteness. What a thing to notice. I recall that observation when I’m at the airport and subjected to the constant barrage of CNN noise from televisions installed wherever there is an open space; at gas stations whose fuel pumps have screens in them that blast awful, tinny music at Rock concert-decibel levels; elevator music; and shopping malls.
What happened to quiet? Has is it been relegated to pre-school quiet time? Is quiet only permitted when sneaking up on the enemy, or into the house after bedtime? I remember the silence that descended upon the congregation while the pastor waited for my buddies and me to stop talking. THAT was quiet.
I’ve always wondered if there is a background hum that we would notice only if it disappeared. Of what does the hum consist? Is it a melding together of all the noises humans make? Not our voices, but the sounds of our machines? If so, what a sad thing.
Some sounds are comforting, but most are just noise. Jackhammers, machine guns, highway noise, carousels, airplanes, CNN, gas stations, trains, steam shovels, sirens, all noise.
I seek solitude on my annual vacation with my dog, Yoshi. We hike, canoe, eat bacon, and swim. It’s the closest I come to living as an eighteenth century mountain man. But even then, my solitude is broken by the occasional logging truck and airplane.
I miss complete silence but for nature’s sounds. Silence is at a premium and I don’t think we’re willing to pay the price required to regain that precious commodity.