Lamenting the Loss of Silence (What Are We Missing?)

Over the weekend I took a ride out to the top of a nearby mountain. I found a nice place to sit overlooking a pretty valley that was specked with cattle and corn. There were farm buildings and trees way down in the valley as well. Finding this all very serene, I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check my Snapchat and Facebook accounts because obviously, there were no Pokemon in the area. But suddenly, like an unexpected punch to the solar-plexus I realized there was no cell service on top of this mountain.

There. Was. No. Cell. Service.

I moved my phone around a few times in a desperate attempt to get even one measly bar, but alas, there were no bars to be had. All of those kitty videos and pictures of other people’s lunch were going to go unviewed by me as long as I sat on this mountain. But I was a little too hot and in need of a slight rest before getting back on my motorcycle, so the dilemma was real.

There were no other people around to distract me so there I sat. No cars, no people, no nothing.

After about 10 minutes of this deafening silence I began to hear things: first it was the bees. There were hundreds of them going about their birds and the bees business on a clover patch nearby. Then I started to hear the cattle down below. In a straight line they were probably a mile or so away, but suddenly I could distinctly hear the difference between each one with their different tones and durations. Even my tinnitus got quieter (or I didn’t notice it as much for some reason). The caw of a crow from some far away unseen place joined in the natural chorus along with the songs and calls of dozens of different birds. Then a bull frog croaked at something in the stream that was (according to the sign I was sitting near) 960 feet below me.

There was not a human sound to be heard – no cars, no planes, no service, and suddenly I was immersed in a world of natural sound. To call it ‘noise’ would be wrong. What I was hearing was not noise, what I was hearing was life – there is a huge difference.

I’ve heard silence before while on hikes or while resting during long rides to the middle of nowhere, but this silence was special in the way it crept up on me. In the same way your eyes adjust to starlight after ten or twenty minutes when you get them far enough away from artificial light at night, my ears and my brain’s ability to process sound shifted after an extended period of no background noise. And the longer I sat there with no background noise the more my ears became adept at picking up even the slightest sounds. A dragonfly ten feet away sounded as crisp and clear as a jetliner.

Eventually, my reality became the bellow of cows in a distant field and the gentle drone of honey bees doing their thing, and I became deeply envious of people who lived before noise pollution was a natural part of everyday life. The lack of aural clutter was a joy to behold – even with no cell service. The beauty and nuance of the environment around me was strikingly clear and detailed.

The next day I rode back to this mountain to record the natural beauty to share with this post, but unfortunately an RV from Indiana got to the parking lot before me. There it sat, idling away in the summer heat with nary a cow or bee to be heard.

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A mile or so away, each individual’s voice became clear and distinct once I gave my ears a chance to hear them.

Much the same happens when your ears are free of clutter and unwanted noise when you listen to music. The world the artist intended to create for you opens up in dimensions you can’t experience with the noise of the world around you competing for processing time in your brain.

Music is great to mask the background noise of the world around you, but it is meant to be so much more. Music unfettered by all of that background noise will also bring you to places you can’t conceive of otherwise. Do your ears (and the rest of you) a favor and find some silence once in a while, and do your heart and soul the same favor by letting music wash over you on occasion without competition from the outside world.

This post is re-printed from July 2015.

By Jack Sharkey.