Sunday, February 14, 2010


I seek out silences.  I flatter myself that I am the last of my generation who can tolerate them.  I may blog, but I will never tweet.  I rarely receive email.  My cell phone almost never rings--to the point that I am sometimes in trouble at work for forgetting to switch it off when the exception occurs. 

I love music, but I listen to very little.  Driving in silence gives my mind room to wander over spaces it might not otherwise find.  I listen to music in two very distinct ways: with full attention, giving it all the respect it deserves; or with complete disregard, using it as its own kind of silence, masking some more distracting noise, like a conversation at the next table, or a television rattling away.

There are times for the iPods and earbuds.  Riding the subway listening to Phillip Glass, for example, or listening to Bach while you navigate Beacon Hill on foot.  Airplane rides.  Board meetings, perhaps, after the first hour.  At the gym, if you're unfortunate enough to be paying for your exercise.  But I'll never understand the kids who need tunes the second they punch out for a lunch break.  I need some peace and quiet to sit and enjoy my lunch, and perhaps have a conversation with the people around me.

Maybe that's just because I usually have a better lunch packed than they do.

This is all long way round to saying I found a lovely silence this afternoon.  There's a couple inches of crusty snow left from the storm earlier this week, but it's been plowed away from the trail along the canal, leaving pure uninterrupted blanket along each side, even down the rocks to the high-tide line.  Snow is plastered on the north side of every tree and power pole, and clings in intermittent chunks to the power-lines.  The sky is a constant silver gray to match the soft pewter of the water.  A single duck floats along the surface at a magical pace, it's motion the only indication of the violent current beneath the surface.  You can feel the threat of ice in the air, but it's an idle threat, no wind behind it, clear and cold enough to make you thankful for your scarf and gloves.  The traffic on the bridge blends into a steady rumble, a sort of whistle to match the wind the world never knew until 100 years ago.  Louder is the coast guard vessel that comes along, labouring steadily against the current, not quite cutting through the waters but agitating them nonetheless, laborously heaving gentle swells out in its wake. 

I wonder--every time a wave reflects against a surface it is much diminished but still there.  The wake strikes the rocks and heads back to the other side.  Before they make it all the way they are too small to see, lost in the swirl of the current and the silent swell of the tide.  Water is quick to erase evidence of passage, much quicker than the snow that still holds the footprints I made on the way here.  But really, can the waters ever be the same as before that boat laboured through, or that duck?  Boats passed here on cold evenings in 1956, evenings that no doubt held silences very similar to this one, and though their passage is long forgotten, the world was forever changed with every one.

There's really no soundtrack that can improve a walk like this, though the jogger chuffing past with the blue spandex and the clip-on eyepod seems to disagree.

Let him have it, then, because this one is all mine


  1. As the saying goes: "Silence is Golden." Truer words, my friend, truer words. Ever the eloquent fellow. Working on the farm, laboring through the snow, allows me the random, lovely moments such as these here. All week, I have heard woodpeckers working, followed by the sudden rush of ice-hardened snow from the branches and electrical wires about the grounds. A sound much like gravel-like bits of sand pouring down an empty rain-stick vessel. I've even been lucky enough to enjoy the distant cry of one of the local hawks!

  2. That sounds like a perfectly lovely afternoon.

  3. Beautifully written. You have obviously been an avid reader from a young age and had time and space to develop you're intellect.

    Ah yes peace and quiet. I love it; to think, experience, contemplate, plan, appreciate...

    (Enjoy those lunches. My husband is in your category of having his lunches eyed enviously by his work colleagues. Makes me the preparer feel good about my homemaking.) (Linda)

  4. I enjoy the silence too, it is true luxery in my life. I've just been on holiday in Austria and nothing is a quiet as snow.