The Sound of Silence
by: Mike Lushington  

            I happened to read a rather remarkable advertisement the other day. It was for a pair of devices that were called "Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones."

            In part, the advertisement read: "Think of them as a mute button for the world around you.Whether it's the engine roar on airplanes, noise of the city, bustle in the office or the blare of neighborhood yard work, these headphones let you hush them all. ... It's no exaggeration to say they're one of those things you have to experience to believe." Think about that last phrase, "it's one of those things you have to experience to believe" for a moment

            Our homes are abuzz with the sounds of our appliances, with radios and televisions and all of the other accoutrements of modern life. Our communities hum to the sounds of traffic, even in the deepest hours of the night, especially if you happen to live within a couple of kilometres of a major highway. In the city, even a very small city like Fredericton, police and ambulance sirens are a regular part of the scene, so much so that I have noticed that most people hardly notice them. The irony of all of this is that, for many modern people, the "sounds of silence" have become so foreign as to be disturbing: witness the numbers of walkers, cyclists, and cross-country skiers who take along portable radios or CD players when they go out for some exercise.

            Recently, I spent most of a day back in the Southeast. I was alone. It was a bright, sparkling day, and it was the coldest day of the winter thus far. There was little snow, although enough to see tracks that rabbits, foxes, squirrels, grouse, and other small inhabitants of the place had made while they were conducting their daily lives. On two occasions, I came across moose sign and, once, coyote tracks. I heard an occasional jay or raven calling in the distance. Otherwise, it was silent. In the entire time that I was out there, I heard three other vehicles on the road. I spoke to no one. I saw no one.

            I recalled that day when I read the advertisement that prompted this essay. Two thoughts come to mind. One of them is the realization, once again, that "the sounds of silence" are foreign to most of us. I have asked people to recall the last time that they could remember being in a situation where the only thing they could hear was the sound of their own breathing or, perhaps, the dull thud of their heartbeat. Most people cannot recall such a time, but I had several such experiences that day, whenever I chose to pause in my wanderings in some sheltered nook, out of the wind and in the winter sunshine.

            The other thought is that most of us don't realize just what it is that we have lost, or, if we do, we really don't think much of it. And perhaps that is right; we are social beings, after all, and the company of others is vital to us. Still, I am one of those odd people for whom the realization that, somewhere out there, beyond human activity and almost beyond human imagination, is a world dominated by primeval silence. I still enjoy being able to touch that world on occasion and, in turn, allowing it to touch me.


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