Curious Nature: Once you stop moving, winter’s silence is unique (column)
February 10, 2018
The silence of winter isn't like the silence of any other season. In fact, winter is noisier than other seasons in some ways, as our snowshoes crunch through layers of crusty snow, or our skis swish along. But when you stop in winter, you really do notice sound. It might be snow falling from a branch, as the light fluffy snow crystals slowly turn to heavy droplets of water in the heat of the rising sun, or the chirping of a chickadee, but sound seems to stand out against the backdrop of winter.
Winter smothers everything in that thick, insulating blanket of snow, dampening the sounds of mice and other critters scurrying through the underbrush that we hear throughout the summer. So many creatures are asleep or away that there are fewer left to make noise, leaving the forests quieter and more sparse than during the lush days of summer. Other sounds are also absent in the winter: Leaves don't flutter in the breeze, and the birds that are here are not making the kind of racket that birds make in the spring and summertime.
Clear crispness of air
When you pause the crunch of your snowshoes or the swishing of your skis, you find that, when they break the silence, sounds seem more pronounced. Maybe it's the way sound waves bounce off of the snow or the clear crispness of the air, but sound seems clearer and more precise during the winter. Or maybe it's just that the sounds come less frequently, singular calls reaching out to the universe, falling on very few, chilled ears, so that we are more attuned to them, more able to focus on the uniqueness of each sound.
Whenever I think about silence, I think back to a conversation I had with an old friend. We were driving in the car, in silence, and I remember feeling uncomfortable. I was scanning my brain for a new topic of conversation when she turned to me and said how nice it was just to ride in silence and not feel the pressure to always be filling the space around us with meaningless noise. I thought about what she said and agreed aloud, although inside I couldn't help thinking about how uncomfortable it had made me. Since then, I have come back to that conversation in my head at different points in my life, and my perspective about it has changed as I have grown. I have come to a place where I am very comfortable with silence — in fact, I even enjoy it. I'm not sure if that means I'm maturing or just getting old.
So as an old, wizened teacher with a houseful of active kids, I have learned to truly value silence. I love to just let my brain wander through the space, enjoying the absence of any kind of auditory stimuli, and letting my thoughts take me where they will. It is in these moments, like right now, when I find my creativity starts to work, whirring like a rusty engine at first, but gathering strength and steam as new ideas and words come bubbling forth, filling the silence, but never filling it up.
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I can never resist the chance to close with the words of the late, great, Ed Abbey, who once said, "Sit quietly for a while and contemplate the stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space."
Dear Ed: this is my goal, to make, create, find, seek, or carve out time to contemplate the silence of winter — this lovely, mysterious and awesome space. I encourage each of you to do the same.
Jaymee Squires is the Director of Graduate Programs at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She finds few moments of true silence these days, but she tries to find value in all moments, both the noisy, chaotic ones and the precious silent ones.