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Precious Silence


The ambiance at the park close to my home in Cochrane is comprised of still water, still air, still leaves, and in the space all around—silence. Even the ducks in lower Mitford Pond where I stand are not moving.


Since we moved to Cochrane in 2011, silence is a change from Calgary that we’ve enjoyed. During the past year there have been changes. Construction has been underway on Highway 1A and Highway 22, both of which come through town. During the day, the background noise is becoming similar to what we lived with in our home near downtown Calgary.


In Calgary there was a constant background rumble that I could hear morning, afternoon, and night, with peaks during rush hours. We lived close to the Foothills Hospital so there was the sporadic noise from emergency vehicle sirens as well as the occasional Stars Air Ambulance helicopter flying low overhead. The cacophony was, in one way or another, constant.


Up until a couple of years ago, I could stand outside my home in Cochrane any time of the day and hear…nothing, except birds and once in a while a train coming through town.

The evenings are still like that. Even early mornings on the weekend are just as quiet.


When I encounter such silence my thoughts slip back to August 1996 when one of my sons and I were camping up at Floe Lake in the Kananaskis National Park. We were asleep in our tent one night after a rigorous hiking day into the lake. In the middle of the night, I woke up then quietly crawled out of our tent. There was no moon, but the sky was brilliant with stars, including the Milky Way Galaxy, stretching from horizon to horizon. It took some doing to get my son up and out of his warm sleeping bag, but the two of us sat on a rock and stared at that beautiful sky. The air was cold and still. There wasn’t a sound to be heard. That was the most complete silence I had experienced in some time.


I’ve not experienced that extreme silence in Cochrane, but there have been times when it was close.


What will happen in the future is unknown, although with the population growth in Cochrane I’m certain the noise here will increase. Still, I’m happy with what we’ve had since we moved here.


Esoterica

I was stopped at a red light on a nearby highway, waiting my turn. The car that pulled up beside me in the other lane looked relatively new. It had that new car shine and was well looked after. When the light changed to green it shot away from the intersection with a roar of the engine and exhaust. Right behind it was a Harley motorcycle with a similar unmuffled roar. They were across the intersection before I got my transmission in gear, and almost out of sight by the time I got across the intersection.


Clearly there was some kind of macho thing going on between the driver of the car and the motorcyclist. It was then that I had a bit of an epiphany about something that might be marketable in the future.


If you’ve stood beside one of the new EVs, such as a Tesla, you’ll know that when they leave an intersection they’re like a stealth vehicle…very quiet. My epiphany was that, even though the cars might change, macho guys won’t. So why not design a box of electronics that will detect acceleration and blast out an accelerating hot rod sound via a couple of good size speakers? I’ll hate it, but if it meets a need of certain folk could there be some money in it?

Just a derisory thought, but I couldn’t help wondering.

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Guest
Oct 30, 2023

Thank you Jack for sharing your thoughts. Your comments and those of your guests say it all.

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Ed Strickland
Ed Strickland
Oct 18, 2023

This brings back a memory of when I was 13 or 14 and me and my best friend Johnny used to go “out to the woods“ to fish in a favourite brook, we would sometimes listen quietly for sounds, a rustle of a field mouse in the undergrowth, a squirrel dropping pieces of a pine cone, an occasional bird song … easy to hear in those days in places like that where the silence was so there …not so easy today as my tinnitus overrides that glorious sound of silence! A wonderful memory nonetheless.

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Guest
Oct 18, 2023

The Sounds of Silence.... maybe we could write a hit song?

H.

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Guest
Oct 20, 2023
Replying to

It was already written but I guess you meant this as a joke.

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Guest
Oct 18, 2023

Silence is precious, and sometimes just being quiet isn't even real silence. Thanks for this beautiful essay, especially the story of the stars. I'm learning to silence my heart so I can find this silence even in the midst of noise.

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Guest
Oct 18, 2023

Thanks Jack. It seems as we get older that silence is more treasured. Our walks most mornings are sometimes an escape save for a bunch of old men talking.

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