Listening to the Silence
I became familiar this year with the work of Gordon Hempton, an audio ecologist who has written about the vanishing silent spaces and why we need to reclaim them. His book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet, tracks his search for those places where there is no man-made noise, only the sounds of the natural world - what Hempton refers to as "natural silence."
The following is a little response to my own love and appreciation for silence and natural silence:
I can feel the silence in my house mostly at night. Sometimes I’ll go and lie down on my bed to read, but I’ll take a moment- and listen. There is the soft whirr of the heat coming up from the vent; a knocking sound occasionally which sounds like someone closing a door is the basement door shifting with the movement of air in the house; and occasionally, the sounds off the icemaker in the fridge spitting out more ice in its bucket.
But beyond those regular noises, the house falls into its still state and rhythm, and I can slip into a peace with it. It’s not the blessed natural sounds of being in the African bush. It’s not the dry silent desert savannah of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where the only sounds are the wind passing through the scraggly branches of the prickly acacia trees, and the clicking sound of goat hoofs stumbling over the rocks, or thee Maasai herders switching sticks to keep them in line as they pick their way over the dusty hillside foraging for the odd grass or edible bush.
It’s not the rustling sound of the dik diks, tiny antelopes scrounging in the hedges near the safari camp, or the mournful cooing of the ground doves that seems like the most common choral refrain all over Africa.
It’s not the frantic calling of the male weaver birds as they beckon the females, showing off their elaborate nests hanging like grassy Christmas ornaments from the trees.
It’s not the low groans of the lions calling in the middle of the night from across the river.
It's not the grunts and chewing of the gazelles as they graze on the Serengeti grasses, or the sound of the flicking of the cheetahs tails as they watch and wait for opportunity.
The sounds in my house don’t come near to these graceful natural sounds from the marvelous orchestra of the African bush. But on those nights when I lay in bed, with the lights on, and I’m about to pick up the book to read, cats snuggled by my side, and if I pause and notice the sounds of the house, and perhaps a light rain is softly falling outside, beyond the sounds, the silence is there, waiting, always waiting, to be enjoyed.
For more on Gordon Hempton, read Newsweek's article here and his website here.