A while ago I went on the bus to a little seaside village just about 30 minutes from me. It was market day here in town, and the streets were bustling. The bus station was busy with shoppers coming and going. When my bus arrived there were a few of us getting on, and it set off through the busy traffic. It went through 3 villages before turning down the lane to my destination, and made a couple of stops before I rang the bell to get off. One other person got off at the same stop, and they turned left, whilst I turned right and started walking towards a small lake that is here that is normally teaming with birds.
The bus drew away, and disappeared round a corner, and I stopped to take a picture when suddenly it hit me. Silence.
Silence is a very rare commodity. Quiet I find often – it is quiet in my room as I type this. But even here, I can hear the sound of the keys being touched and the PC fan turning on and off. Often I hear wind blowing over my chimney pots and birds – particularly sea gulls – calling outside. But generally I would call this room quiet – but not silent.
Quiet to me means not the absence of all sound, but that the sounds I hear do not disturb me. As I sit here, sometimes an RAF aircraft flies past and disturbs the peace, but that only serves to accentuate the normal quiet of the place.
So as I was standing there in the village street, suddenly there was no detectable sound at all – no traffic, no wind, no people or bird noises, not even the sound of my own feet on the roadway.
This only lasted for a short time, as another vehicle came round the corner, and then I started walking and the birds came into earshot.
I walked around the village for a while and then down onto the sea front, and along the promenade. It was mid January, so not many people on the beach, and there was plenty of quiet there – but no silence to speak of. There were the sounds of the waves and the wind, the birds calling and people walking – no real noise, bit no silence either.
I’m not sure how I feel about silence – the quiet of this room or the quiet of an almost empty sea front are welcoming and warm, but total silence is something that is so unusual it sometimes feel threatening. It is something difficult to find either in the natural world or in our sprawling cities. And when we do find it, we don’t know how to handle it.