...and the space that saying “no” creates, and what you would be willing to give up to keep that quiet in your head, in the world.
IN THESE LAST DAYS (for now) of BC’s version of a full lockdown (few stores open other than essentials, most people laid off or working from home, no tourism, no going out to eat), consider the silence.
The silence of the streets. At night, I walk my dog around the block: up Regina, up to Wascana, down Lurline, and back along Seaton. Usually, in pre-COVID-19 times, as I crest the hill at Lurline, the blanket of traffic noise from Burnside Road, Tillicum Road and the Island Highway hits me like a growling wall. But in these last eight weeks, it’s been the wind in trees that is the loudest sound. An owl. Someone’s radio. Someone talking. We continue down into a valley of quiet, broken by the occasional car’s faraway whoosh. The sound is an individual car; it’s not traffic. It’s not a wall.
This isn’t just at night. It’s at 4:30 on a Tuesday. It’s at 10am with bird song on a Saturday. Consider being able to hear your neighbour’s spoon clinking in its bowl as she eats her breakfast in her kitchen with the window open. Consider hearing children from four doors down. The wings of a raven passing overhead. A dog barking. Your own heart beating.
Empty roads and sidewalks equals quiet
Consider also, the silence that may have found its way into some of our thoughts. I think, “I could use a shirt; this one is losing its shape.” Then I think, “but the shops are closed.” And I turn back to the garden, or to walking somewhere in the forests nearby, or to what I’d like to do after dinner, after marking my students’ online essays. As we turn away from buying things, because there is little to buy, consider the space that silencing of want leaves in one’s head.
Consider the silence (very like the silence I experienced in Cuba) of little advertising, of few or no ads telling you what you lack. How much could we really do without? Will I go shopping when things reopen? Probably not. I like this space that saying “no” creates. I like the extra time that “making do” gives me. Days stretch out longer. I like that “no” creates many other “yeses.”
Then, consider the silencing of frivolity. Little on the news about Hollywood stars (other than Matt Damon’s sojourn in a small Irish village). A focus, in social media, on how to grow food, how to support local business, the intricacies of mental health, a plethora of community check-in groups. This pandemic has seen an intensifying of focus on what matters and is critical to human life—health, food, shelter, community. The rest—luxury travel, gossip, speculation—has largely fallen away.
I walk down the middle of streets around the city. People say hello when I pass them. Places I’ve travelled to unspool as memories in my head. I am writing to the people I love, rather than meeting them. I’m also measuring the decibels where I walk using a free App on my phone. The level right now at that rise on Lurline is at 35 decibels. That translates to the noise level of rustling leaves. It’s the same level you’ll find 5 kilometres North of the Island Highway, in the Highlands.
What is your neighbourhood decibel level at? What will it be at next week? Consider the silence of a world in this delay. What does this mean for how we might live once these strictures are removed? What would we like to keep? What spaces? What stretches of time? What sounds? What are we willing to do without? What can we do without? What would you be willing to give up in order to keep that quiet in your head, in the world?
Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.