One of the things I like about winter is that even in the city, you can find a kind of silence we rarely experience any more. Granted, you have to wait for a still, snowy night, stay up till two, and brave the chill of out-of-doors, but then you’ll have it; an urban silence, without traffic noise, without airplanes overhead, without snow-blowers or -shovelers, where the loudest sounds are those you make — of walking, fabric swishing, your breath.
For me, silence is a kind of holy space, and I would worship there more often if I could find it (and didn’t have to get in a car to do so). I’ve made an effort in the past couple of years to seek out a few out-of-the-way places so I might visit the church of silence. Included in this itinerary: the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in the sand hills of Nebraska, Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota, Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, and Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. Mostly, I’ve gone to listen, to have a break from the normal cacophony of my life. And I am very grateful to the governments that have set aside these spaces to preserve that which is increasingly rare; a place where non-human creatures and their habitats can get on with life unmolested, and where a gal like me can occasionally visit and humbly submit herself to the church of silence.
Of course, what I really mean by silence is the absence of sound from my own species.
There are all sorts of songs in this world, and many species singing them. One function of these songs is to claim territory, which is what seems to be going on in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Reserve1. Our own invasive, highly territorial species has moved in and set about to crowing, as we are wont to do.
Maybe it’s time for us to shut up and see what we might have been missing.
Recorded in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, during an August sunrise. You’ll hear a variety of birds, distant lowing (bison), also-distant coyotes (with a real drama queen among them), and my squeaking boots, even though I’m trying my durndest to stand very quietly. I recommend headphones.
- Where an armed, anti-government militia has occupied the refuge with the belief that such lands should be handed over to ranchers and miners. You can read more about it here.