Good Silence and Bad Silence

In the story I just released, the main character muses that he prefers sounds to absolute quiet. The absence of sound – silence – means danger of some kind. For the rest of us, silence is often welcome, at least briefly. But some people cannot tolerate the absence of aural stimulation, and must have a TV, radio, music, conversation, something. Note, I’m not talking about people with tinnitus who need sound to minimize the unending hum.

I alternated editing with shoveling earlier this week. Nothing absorbs sound like snow, and I was the only one out moving the fluffy white blanket off the pavement. No wind blew, and very few cars moved close enough to hear. I heard a faint murmur, perhaps, from the main road near RedQuarters, but none of the usual roars, grumbles, hums, or other sounds. Instead I heard silence, snow quiet, the absence of much sound. The shovel scraped on the pavement, very loud in the stillness. Small birds fluttered and called to each other in the back yard, muted by the white blanket. Two Vs of geese passed overhead, calling encouragement to themselves and the flew toward open water and bare grass somewhere south and west. Otherwise, only the shovel and my own steps disturbed the peace.

This was good silence. I relished it. Oh so faintly, the chimes from the War Memorial came over the distance, marking the hour. Then stillness returned. Snow quiet is calm, a soft hush.

I’ve heard bad silence. When everyone stops speaking and turns against you, eyes hard, casting you out of their company without a word. When what should be heard isn’t, the warning of someone or something else Out There, watching, waiting perhaps for you. When the wind tops, and the birds go quiet, and you turn to see a wall of dirt charging down from the north, or the green sky turns black and the next sounds are a roar like a train and the thudding of hail. The “it’s too quiet” moment before everything erupts into danger or chaos or tears. The silence of bad news that needs no words.

Driveway and sidewalk cleared, I felt good enough to shovel the neighbor lady’s walk as well. Amazing what a year of weight lifting and cardio do to make snow lighter. Every few minutes I stopped, listening to the hush. It’s been so long since I heard true quiet that I savored the moments, basking in the absence of noise.


9 thoughts on “Good Silence and Bad Silence

  1. “What’s the very worst thing to ever hear in a datacenter?” “Silence.”

    I don’t need chatter, but some sound is a bit reassuing. I find I wake up on True Silence, but can sleep through some storms (“Did[n’t] the storm wake you up?” “What storm?”) to the point the quip, “I wake up at the drop of an atom bomb.” has been used.

  2. Last night I went out to try and see comet ZTF. Disappointing but it was my own fault, I only had 40mm binoculars and the moon was half full, or is that half empty? The wind had been blowing all day but at night the stillness was remarkable. It was so still I could hear the occasional traffic on the freeway about three miles away. Very peaceful and very refreshing.

  3. Ordinarily we’ll hear quiet field and meadow sounds – birds, squirrels running, light traffic. Then we got dead silence, and saw why: Perched behind a bird feeder was a red-shouldered hawk, about 24-26″ tall, making a takeout order. Hawk flew away, and silent returned to quiet. Amazing sight.

  4. Sitting in a deer stand and hearing ‘silence’ raises the hackles on the back of the neck… Just sayin… And yes, Tinnitus sucks.

  5. My mother would say. “When I can’t hear you children, SOMETHING is going on!”

  6. I always loved how very quiet it was, after a heavy snow-fall in Northern Japan, and then years later in Ogden, Utah. Everything seemed muffled to stillness, wrapped in a heavy comforter of white snow.
    And those magical nights, when there was a full moon behind the overcast, and a deep layer of snow on the ground … it would almost seem as bright as day. I think in Russia they call it a “White Night”, which is quite fitting.

Comments are closed.