I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem… and no television commercials…
So begins Robert Heinlein’s novel Glory Road. It’s a happy place the hero finds, with lovely land and friendly people. And quiet.
We have no “quiet” anymore. People go outside to have a walk or run in nature yet they plug earphones in and listen to anything but the sounds around them. Even at the gas pumps we’re not allowed three minutes to merely listen to our surroundings, or to listen to nothing at all. We’re barraged with mini-television broadcasts or, at least, music. Is it unthinkable any more not to be constantly “entertained”? Would three minutes alone with our thoughts be such an awful thing?
One can’t go shopping without the store blasting music constantly. I remember quite fondly, during the rolling blackouts in California, being in a massive home improvement store when the power went out. Their backup systems gave enough light to see, but the music on the overhead speakers stopped, and the buzz and roar of air conditioning and such ceased. The store was quiet. There was an oddly ethereal quality to wandering through the rows of plumbing supplies and tools without being constantly battered by noise. It was the most pleasant shopping experience I have had anywhere.
I work in a noisy business. In television broadcasting, silence is unthinkable. Two seconds of silence has my head snapping up to find out what has gone wrong. If, at home, I fall asleep with the television on, I can’t use the timer to shut the tv off – the sudden lack of sound wakes me.
Still, I long for times of precious quiet. In our very rural suburb there is a constant drone of lawnmowers and chainsaws. Or, in the rare instances those cease, the airplanes overhead, and cars on the highways, or the trains passing by a mile or so away continue constantly. The closest we come to true quiet is on the lake, drowsing in the sun with our boat anchored in a peaceful spot. But, even then, there is the constant sound of boat motors and jet-skis; of voices and music being played here and there; of distant cars and airplanes.
And yet… I know a place...
It was in Iceland on a trip there in 2005, we were driving the southern road around the island and the last radio station faded out. There were no cell towers. There were no trains. There were few cars on the highway.
Then we reached Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland. And we drove in toward the camping area. But we got out and walked the other way, toward the glacier face. And we rounded a bend that took us out away from any sounds made by man.
It was quiet.
There was still the wind and the sounds of water running from the glacier, but those were peaceful sounds; sounds that stilled the soul rather than quickening the mind.
When I think of that spot I can still call up the feeling of quiet. It wasn’t just a quiet from lack of sound – for there were sounds – but a feeling of quietude from the lack of being assaulted by sounds that constantly demand something from me. The wind had no advertising. The water had no technology. Perhaps every day, all the time, such quiet would become as maddening as the constant noise in which we live. But sometimes, now and then, a little escape would be a most welcome thing.