Shhhhhhhh! (the quest for silence)


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By Caitlin Kelly

Next to attention, it’s becoming a rare and precious resource.

Complete silence.

No phones.

No airplanes or helicopters.

No drones.

No one yelling.

No motorized boats or snowmobiles.

No cars or trucks.

The irony?

I bet people in previous centuries had similar complaints — the clattering of horses’ hooves on cobblestones! The clamor of crowds in narrow urban alleys!

Here’s an interesting piece from The New York Times about one man’s quest for blessed silence in New Hampshire:

Connoisseurs of quiet say it is increasingly difficult, even in the wilderness, to escape the sounds of vehicles, industries, voices. A study published last year in the academic journal Science found that noise pollution was doubling sound levels in much of the nation’s conserved land, like national parks and areas preserved by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Noise that humans create can be annoying but also dangerous to animals who rely on hearing to seek their prey and avoid predators. “We’re really starting to understand the consequences of noise and the importance of natural sound,” said Rachel Buxton, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University who worked on the study.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience total silence — and it is profound and oddly disorienting. I once stood in a place so totally quiet — a friend’s enormous ranch in New Mexico — that I could hear myself digesting.


Ironically, there really are some spots in the city of Manhattan where you can enjoy near-silence, while my suburban street echoes almost constantly with birdsong, night-time coyotes (!), leaf-blowers and construction work.

What’s the quietest place you’ve ever been?

17 thoughts on “Shhhhhhhh! (the quest for silence)

    1. Exactly. I’m struck by how silent the woods can be — and all the noises one can hear (chipmunks rustling, a squirrel, a hawk.)

      One of my favorite exercises on my reservoir walk is counting all the noises I hear – including my own foot-steps and breathing.

  1. Early January, 1996. It had snowed about eight inches overnight and, my fresh-from-the-sunshine-state driving skills being what they were not, I decided to walk the mile and a half or so to work. It was around four o’clock when I set out. The streets were empty and there were no tracks in the snow, which was still falling in feathery flakes, lighting up in the streetlights. The only sound I could hear was my breath and the crunching of the snow under my feet. I stopped for a moment and set down my tools. I held my breath and, in a second or two, I could hear the snow falling to the ground. That was a nice memory. Thank you for starting the conversation.

    1. ooooohhh….SNOW.

      One of my favorite moments of all time is to be out in snowfall…it hushes everything in such a specific way.

      On Xmas Eve (what year??!) Jose took me to the lych gate of our church after midnight service — with the snow hissing down around us — and proposed. Perfect!

      1. Okay I’ve gotta tell you this one. It’s not quiet but there’s snow and Cathy and I still talk about it. We were living in Atlanta and were still newlyweds in every possible way. Our friends couldn’t stand to be around us, it was just that mushy. So one day we were walking down Peachtree road to get some donuts. It was snowy but that made it nicer. We were holding hands and talking as we went. Cathy, of course, was watching where she was going while I was watching Cathy. Next thing I know she says “KENNY!”. I turned to look just in time to walk straight into a telephone pole. SMACK! I landed on my ass and sat there swearing for a moment, then we went on our way, a little warier. We refer to times like these as “Hey Moe!”ments.

  2. You know, oddly enough, whenever I go to a haunted location, it’s usually pretty quiet. Even when there’s a tour or whatever! Ohio State Reformatory was pretty quiet, and the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast (as well as most of the surrounding town) was quiet as well. Maybe it’s the ghosts using their influence to get people quiet so they can speak louder.

    Also, my apartment complex is usually pretty quiet. Except for when kids play outside and the occasional neighbor tries to test the water by playing their music loudly at 2 AM, it’s pretty quiet, which I love.

  3. I’m an early riser and it’s always dead quiet an hour before the sun is up and before the dog walkers, the newspaper deliverer, the lawn mowers. All that comes with the sun.

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