It’s not quite silent. I hear a little creaking in the branches of some of the trees. A car goes by, nearly soundlessly, but I hear the tires pressing the new fallen snow into compact ice, a low, grinding sound. A couple of sheep must sense I am near, and give that little tentative bleat. How rare in this time to experience quiet. We are bombarded by sound continuously, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Traffic, airplanes, trains. Earbuds. Dinging, notifications, repetitive music accompanying hand held games. Appliances running, the furnace blowing, the television yammering. What effect, I wonder, is this having on our youth? In a speech to the AAAS recently, National Park Service scientist Kurt Fristrup had this to say: "This learned deafness is a real issue. We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears. This gift that we are born with — to reach out and hear things hundreds of metres away, all these incredible sounds — is in danger of being lost through a generational amnesia. There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to. As you raise background sound levels it has the same effect on your hearing that fog would have on your vision."
Learned deafness. What an apt term. It’s as though our minds are trying to protect us from overstimulation, shutting down some of the background cacophony in order to be able to think. How much is lost in this process? I am fortunate to live in the country, where I can walk outside my door, take a hike in the hayfield, and enjoy the sound of my footsteps, the wing of a bird in flight, the call of the chickadee calling for a mate. We should all find a space to carve out some silence in our lives. There are options for everyone seeking a little peace. Plenty of parks, trails, and nature centers offer a place to step outside and enjoy winter's respite.
Because noisy spring and summer are just around the corner.