Unplug, and look for some soothing silence

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Steve Lekwa

I’m always amazed at how many people I see who have little wires or other electronic devices dangling out of their ears. It matters little what they are doing when listening to whatever it is that the little wires are pumping into their heads. As if the audible sound isn’t enough, many of them (especially younger ones) are filling their eyes with digital noise in the form of texting, too. You need to watch for them when driving around town because it’s not likely that they’ll hear or see you with their ears full, their heads down, eyes fixed on the little screen, and thumbs flying.

I enjoy music once in awhile if it isn’t too loud and even a daily dose or two of news, but find that my day isn’t complete unless there’s been some quiet time with no radio, no TV, no music, no calls, and probably not even a lot of lights on. If I’m indoors I might spend that time reading, but if outdoors, I’ll be listening and looking for those wonderful sounds and sights that nature provides to those who seek them. It’s spring, after all, and nature is offering some of her finest music and sights of the year.

Quiet time is generally soothing when it can be found, but it’s a relative thing. Some equate it with solitude, the total absence of human generated audible or visual noise. Others can find that sense of peace and quiet in even a small park or back yard in a big city with people, traffic, and sirens never very far away. For them, the more natural setting and just getting a little distance away from the noise sources provides a small sphere of relatively quiet personal space and it’s enough. True solitude is at least a day’s drive into northern Minnesota or the Missouri or Arkansas Ozarks where sizable roadless areas still exist.

Finding solitude isn’t a reasonable expectation most of the time in Iowa. The noise of a railroad like the Union Pacific main line or major highways like I-35 or Highway 30 is nearly constant 24 hours a day throughout the year. Their noise can carry for several miles depending on prevailing winds. It can even penetrate the walls of a home if you’re less than a mile away. Tree leaves muffle the intensity of the sound somewhat in the summer. Although the noise seems inescapable, I occasionally forget that it’s there and achieve something like a sense of solitude. I had that experience walking the Skunk River Greenbelt woods last evening. A friend and I were surrounded by a literal sea of blooming bluebells that stretched into the distance among the budding trees and bushes. You could even smell them! Flowing water was nearby on one side of our path and a still oxbow pond was on the other side. The scene was bathed in a golden sunset glow. I don’t remember hearing the interstate for that enchanted few moments even though it was only a half mile away and doing its best to drown out any other sounds. My wife and I had a similar experience sipping early morning coffee on our deck a few mornings ago even though Highway 30 was roaring along less than a quarter mile away. The male bluebird and a cardinal were singing their best spring songs right in our yard. Their music created a bubble of peaceful quiet space without human intrusion. It couldn’t last, of course, but its calming effect lasted well into the day.

Silence is good for the soul and is worth seeking wherever it can be found. Sometimes the places you find it will surprise you. Try unplugging for at least a little while each day and looking for some soothing silence in your special quiet place.