One of this first things you notice here on the riverbank is the silence. Well, not true silence, but a soft, natural quiet—the purling of water over gravel, the murmur of wind in the sycamores, the constant music of countless birds. Nature sounds. Soothing sounds. Sounds which don't grate upon the ear or disturb the peace.
City folks often find this silence unsettling, even disturbing. It makes them anxious, all this space in time without noise. Perhaps its because without sound's distractions, they're forced to think, reflect, listen to their own inner voices; come to personally know themselves.
But live here awhile and just the opposite occurs…you find such quietude a balm to the incessant clang and clatter of modern urban life with its bleating horns, wailing sirens, traffic roar, and persistant shouting. Soon you come to realize that silence is a treasure. A place of silence is a gift, a blessing, a refuge and retreat that comforts and heals, and you vow to never ever move anywhere that lacks genuine natural silence.
The exterior walls of our modest cottage are built of limestone, 17-inches thick, which act as a formidable sound barrier. It's practically impossible to hold a conversation between rooms, even when you yell. While it may be a natural silence outdoors, it's an anomalous silence inside. You can easily hear the fire burning on the hearth, or water for tea boiling in the kettle on the stove. A dripping faucet is like a jackhammer. A summer mosquito keening in flight, can be heard all the way across the great room, a distance of almost thirty feet.
About three-quarters of a mile upstream from the house, an interstate highway bridge crosses the river; the road carries constant traffic. In summer, when the leaves are full in the riparian woods along the stream, you can barely hear the cars and trucks crossing—a mere whisper. But come autumn, as leaves start pouring down, that sound multiplies daily, though in truth the volume probably doesn't go up by more than a few decibles. However it always takes us weeks to get used to the increase.
One final observation. Perhaps you remember the famous exchange in A. Conan Doyle's mystery, Silver Blaze, between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard.
Gregory: "Is the any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
Due to the big riffle directly in front of the cottage, the sound of the river is a constant, a dull shhhhoooossssh, always there, audible from anywhere outside, or inside providing we have a window open. Except during the coldest weather, we often keep a bedroom window up, and the sound through the screen is the perfect background to falling asleep. But when it rains a fair amount, and the river rises a few feet, the water no longer churns through the riffle. At which point the river's voice is quelled, an unnatural silence that's immediately missed.
More than once I've awakened into the darkness, alert, wondering what drew me from my slumbers. I listen, and hear the silence…and can then relax because I know that all is well. The curious incident of the silence in the night-time has been solved.
[I was inspired to write this because I read Pat's wonderful post on silence earlier today. If you're not a regular Weaver of Grass reader, you should be, for it's one of the most interesting and readable blogs around if you like rural life, quiet matters, and excellent writing. I've been a fan since I discovered blogs on the Web, and I urge you to make her a stop on your daily rounds.]