Bobcat’s Tail: The sounds of silence

  • Nubanusit Lake in Hancock in seen at dusk. When was the last time you sat still, away from the din of daily life and listened to the silence? Photos by Eric Aldrich

  • Mount Monadnock is seen from Cobb Hill in Hancock.

  • Mill Pond in Washington. Photo by Eric Aldrich

  • Half Moon Pond in Hancock is seen at sunset.

Bobcat’s Tail
Thursday, August 02, 2018 2:38PM

When was the last time you sat still, away from the din of daily life and listened to the silence?

Did you shut off the news, the TV, the radio, the traffic and the legion of distractions?

Did you stay inside and savor the stillness?

Did you go outside to hear the hymns of nature: the brilliant birdsongs, chattering chipmunks, wind-rustled leaves and babbling brooks? Did you hear your own personal symphony?

My own issues with hearing have kept me fascinated with the spheres of silence, wondering about true silence, or what it’s like to be deaf. I wonder where total silence lives, like the depths of a cave or one of those high-tech ultra-silent rooms.

Sitting in a tree stand in November, waiting for a deer, I have time to think about these things. As I watch and strain to listen, I hear November’s non-silence – an ensemble of wind, falling acorns, scattering squirrels, and distractions big and small.

Such exercises in silence aren’t for everyone. I know folks who can’t drive a mile without the radio or some audio on, maybe to break the monotony. I’ll turn it off sometimes, just to listen to the engine, the wind rushing by, the traffic, life in general and my own thoughts.

We probably all know people who always have a TV on at home. Filling the void, I guess, like someone else’s steady presence. Turn it off and there’s the reality of silence, which can be scary.

Aside from leaving us alone with our thoughts, silence can be scary for good reason. When we listen amid the silence, scientists suggest that we’re using an ancient defense mechanism – screening for any possible signs of danger.

But silence comes in many forms – sometimes the prolonged silence of a snow falling gently to earth, or just a brief silence, the space between sounds.

There’s the silence when your baby finally stops crying. And there’s silence when your kids go off to college.

There’s the silence when the fireworks show has ended.

There’s the silence of an August evening, after the robins stop singing and before crickets fill the void.

There’s the silence at night when the stars emerge, and the vastness blows your mind.

There’s the silence when you sit at the dinner table with your spouse and run out of things to say, and it’s perfectly okay.

There’s the formal moments of silence when you remember those who have passed on. And there’s the silence of times when you wish a departed loved-one was with you, right then and there.

There’s the silence of power, or the power of silence. You may have heard of John Francis, better known as the Planetwalker. When Francis was in his mid-20s, he stopped riding in motor vehicles to show his opposition to the pollution of an oil economy, especially oil spills. As he walked to his destinations, Francis found himself discussing – and too often arguing – to make his point. On his birthday in 1973 he decided to stop talking and just listen. He ultimately kept silent for 17 years. In that time, he earned three college degrees and a PhD, focusing on oil spills. Francis’s silence gave him the power to be a strong advocate for the environment.

Another silent one was Christopher Knight, aka the Hermit of North Pond near Belgrade, Maine. In 1986, at age 20, Knight left his world and family without saying goodbye and lived in the woods alone, without talking to himself or anyone else. He broke into camps and stole food and other things and lived alone in a tent for 27 years. Only once during that time did he ever speak, and that was to say “hi” to a hiker he encountered on a remote trail.

Knight was no hero – environmental or otherwise – but he showed the far extent that some people may reach to find silence in themselves and the world around them.

Most of us just need a little escape from the noise now and then. Maybe an hour or two. Maybe just a few minutes. Maybe we turn off the TV, the radio, the Pandora, the Spotify, the news, the awful news.

Or maybe we head outside.

We might just hear our own personal symphony.

(Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock. ericadine@gmail.com)