Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peace and Quiet

If there's one thing I enjoy, it's peace and quiet. Unfortunately, both are in short supply. Peace, of course, is a relative term any more. Nowadays you might define it as something like "the absence of open war."

Quiet is more attainable but, unfortunately, also pretty rare.

Quiet, the absence of undesirable noise, is very rare these days. I got to thinking about it recently while reading David E. Kyving's fascinating book, Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940. Early in the book, during a discussion of a time when electricity was not widely available in rural areas, Dr Kyving writes,

"The farmhouse had a lower noise level, and not just because there was no television; it had no humming refrigerator, no flushing toilet, no whirring appliance motors. Things did not make noises; the only sound came from people, animals, and natural forces like the wind."

It's hard to imagine that much quiet, isn't it? Inside the house we no longer even notice the steady low roar of central heating and air conditioning, the beeps and squeaks of various appliances, the little warning sounds when e-mail arrives, the omnipresent background accompaniment of the radio and the television and the mp3 player, and the ringing (or desired musical or verbal alert) of the telephone. Step outside and we hear the distant hum of traffic, the roar of passing aircraft, the mechanical snarls of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, edgers, chainsaws, and other outdoor tools, and the raucous roar of motorcycles. On the street we're bombarded with traffic noise, advertising, panhandlers' pleadings, and the endless, if involuntary, sharing of cell phone conversations, boom-box music, and leakage from other people's ear bud headsets on all sides. In the office we hear ringing phones, background conversations, and the steady background accompaniment of copiers, printers, and other office machines.

And we haven't even mentioned the endless, clueless blather coming from both ends of the political spectrum.

Yep, quiet is a thing of the past.

That's why I really appreciate the degree of quiet I'm able to impose on my surroundings when I can. I really appreciate my noise-cancelling headphones (a godsend on long airline flights) and the ability to close doors and windows to keep outside noise to a minimum. It's hard to imagine a time when it really was quiet except for the sounds of nature. I vaguely remember the summer between my high school graduation and the start of college (shortly after the dinosaurs died out), when I attended an Outward Bound course in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southwestern Colorado. We spent a month hiking and camping in the remote wilderness, far from the noises of "civilization" ... and it was a wonderful experience. I've seldom been in a place so completely quiet.

It used to be that the gold standard for quiet in the modern era was the library. Now, of course, libraries are equipped with computers, printers, copy and fax machines, and other sources of background noise, and many library-goers think nothing of making and receiving calls on their cell phones. It's gotten to the point that you have to work very hard to find a refuge from the ambient noise of modern daily life. It's worth it...but isn't it a shame that it's necessary to work so hard for it?

Are you doing your part to keep the noise down? I, at least, thank you.

Have a good day. Quietly. More thoughts tomorrow.



Bandit said...

I took up golf for this very reason. Not that I am any good or ever will be (ask Mike) but to enjoy the quiet as my job consisted of listening to noise.

Many years ago a mentor of mine told me that my band will only be as good as my ability to listen. Making music is the end result of listening to and correcting wrong notes, rhythms, etc. I must say though that the end product greatly out weighed the process.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I wouldn't mind a little quiet. There's definitely no chance of ever getting peace and quiet.

Mike said...

I was with a friend on his family's 400 acres in rural Missouri. I told him to stop at one point because I could hear absolutly nothing. I was dead still. No wind, no birds, nothing. It was sensory deprovation.

fiona said...

Trail riding does it for me ;0)

allenwoodhaven said...

The best way to find peace and quiet is to get up very early. That works for me but then I miss sleeping late, another needed part of a perfect day.

Mike said...

IT was dead still.

One of these days I'll emerge from typo hell.

Wv: dower - A tower that fell down.

Amanda said...

Oops! I think we're one of the main sources of noises for our neighbors.

So you can imagine how much I would crave peace and quiet living in this house. I've even told Richard that I'm going to teach Adrian NOT to sleep through the night just because I enjoy the stillness of night time. I can't believe I'm actually enjoying waking up twice each night.