In Search of Silence

In the modern world today, in most populated places, there’s an absence of silence. In Chicago, you can go to Lake Michigan, a great expanse of water that almost resembles an ocean (for those landlocked folk), and it’s an ocean inasmuch as you can’t see the other side and in the winter months, the waves can reach up to 6 meters (20 feet). It’s beautiful — magical at times with the varying layers of steel greys and sparkling ice formations in the winter , and when walking alone, a near silence is reached — the horizon can be a misty powdery blue, at times a pale charcoal with the coming of a storm, and other days a vibrant electric blue with the promise of summer, picnics and laughter of children. You can walk for ages along the lake — from north to south, from the suburb of Evanston, respectively, all the way almost up to Chicago’s infamous Magnificent Mile. If you live near Chicago and you want some peace and quiet, then you head to one of the beaches on a hot summer’s night, or you walk at moonlight along the oak- and maple-lined lakeside parks to find a respite of stillness and tranquility. But is it really quiet? There are cars that pass nearby. There are police sirens. Dogs barking. Boomboxes blaring. Teenagers jeering and laughing. Airplanes soaring overhead.

What about Stockholm? You can also find some quiet there — it’s a smaller and a bit more of a provincial city than Chicago or New York or Paris or Berlin. When we lived in Stockholm, our apartment was near a 50,000-square meter protected park and forest that surround a large undulating lake that curves around and continues on into another nearby lake. In the dead of winter, the middle of the lake would most often freeze over, making a perfect ice skating rink for moose, deer, and humans to trample all over it, allowing a new and awesome perspective of the rolling forest around the park. Hired snowplows would drive onto the iced-over lake and spin a huge oval to make a smooth track for the skaters. From their storage lockers, Stockholm cityfolk would dig out their old-fashioned long skates and head to the lakes. Sitting on the edge of one of the piers, we’d strap on the skates, and shove off, to glide along, grasping long ski-like poles that we stick in the ice to help propel us forward, pushing out on one foot, then the other, until you find your gliding momentum, your zone, when skating becomes pure bliss. The sun, if there is any sun (being that it’s Stockholm in the winter), that beautiful sun on your face, your whistle and ice claws slung around your neck (should you fall through a crack in the ice), backpack full of water, a thermos of schnaps-spiked coffee or hot cocoa, a cheese sandwich and a bar of 70% chocolate. On those Stockholm lakes, there’s near silence out there, aside from the cutting swoosh of your skates skimming along on the frozen crystalline water, carving ice shavings as you go, thumping your poles into the glistening ice. Nearby are highways, though, and depending on where you are, you can nearly always hear the hum of those Volvos and Saabs.

 

We live in near silence. We hear birds. Occasional hooting owls. Frogs chirping. Foxes making curdling mating calls. The wind whushing through the branches of our olive trees nearby our house or garden where I’m working. No cars or buses or police sirens or booming bass rap or even a conversation. We’re unplugged, immersed in nature, surrounded by earth’s inhabitants with no man-made influences. You can sit and read and relax in a hammock. Take a walk for miles without meeting a soul. Wander off into the mountainside and find an abandoned cave or a place to sit overlooking a pine-forest covered valley. Serenity. Sublime beauty. Peace and quiet. Away from the stress of the cities, the rumble of the jungle, the constant moan of the traffic. It’s hardly populated where we live. Our nearest neighbor is about 2K away, and then beyond her, our next nearest is about 5K away. The farmers work the land around us, so occasionally we hear the grumble of a tractor. It’s a big difference from living in the middle of Manhattan or Stockholm, and we’ve come to love it here. Nothing but nature.

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