It’s a good question. Any time of the day or night, there will be cars, lorries, a train, aircraft; or humming machinery: the fridge, restaurant ventilation fans. Even listing them raises my blood pressure.
Today I had a couple of hours alone at the L’Arche Glebe garden: I can still feel a ‘noise’ in my finger tip which received more than its share of stings whilst I was weeding. But generally I could dismiss the traffic noise, the passers-by across the River Stour, and just be nearly silent in my own (nettled) skin.
One interruption I welcomed, a sound familiar from childhood when I lived near an RAF training ground: a Tiger Moth biplane, which turned an arc around the city centre before leaving me to my nettles. No harm in feeling six years old again, if only for thirty seconds.
Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
I was already allowed my own patch of garden by the time I was six; now I am growing flowers for my daughter’s wedding!
But back to silence. We were at a concert last night and I enjoyed how a big kettle drum could be louder than all other instrument in the orchestra, yet two of them together suggestedprofound silence.
It’s said that our ancestors lived in caves, indeed Bridgnorth in Shropshire still has a few cave houses that my father could remember people living in. Is there some primal urge to retreat into the shelter of Mother Earth’s womb? My family have enjoyed visiting caves from Tenby to Tuscany, and finding bats and spiders and graffiti inside them, not to mention a viper at the mouth of the Italian one – which was once a shepherd’s shelter.
This April we were in the Lake District when we came across Rydal Caves on Loughrigg Fell. The first time we passed was soon after heavy rainfall that had swollen the river, covering over the stepping stones. In the cave stepping stones were still usable and drew us in to hear the music created by the drops of water seeping down through layers of rock to the ceiling before falling into the shallow lake that covers the floor. The splashes echoed around the cavern which had the acoustic of a cathedral. By no means silent, but beautiful and peaceful.
And despite days of dry weather there was music the second time we passed that way, music we could hear even before we saw the cave.
Now there are two organised threats to the tranquillity of Britain’s wild places –first the military, who had already overflown us that day with Hercules, Chinook and a Hawk jet trainer – and second, our old friends the geography field trip, frisbying their quadrats from Lulworth to Loughrigg. They it was that we met at the cave, singing their hearts out, a song without words, filling the chamber with the joy of being alive in the springtime and pouring out across the fell to enchant walkers like us, if not the disgruntled teacher who scowling said, ‘I must apologise!’
Not at all! If anyone recorded that moment, I hope you post it on the school’s website for all to share! It was far more inspiring than the over-amplified loop of Pachelbel’s Canon we once cringed to in a show cave that shall remain nameless.