Just a Thought: April 27, 2016
The powerful peace of quiet.
At first, we couldn't place the mysterious sound. It reminded us of the whispery wingbeat of bald eagles as they swoop along Lake Erie's cliffs. Then, we saw workmen rhythmically swinging old-fashioned scythes. We stood, mesmerized, on a nearby wooden bridge, as swans meandered unhurriedly below.
This is how they mow the lushly verdant grass at park Vrelo Bosne, the source of the Bosna River just outside of Sarajevo. A native of the city explained to us that they prefer to manage the park this way. It is more peaceful, he said.
Like so many Sarajevo tourists, we'd arrived with two ingrained images of the place: the Olympics and the war. Both noisy, riotous, unsettled.
The war dominated nightly news during my high school years. I recall the brutal scenes and sounds of mayhem filling our living room while we ate our TV dinners: reports that told – as usual – just one aspect of this beautiful country's complicated story.
If you'd have told me then that I'd one day experience the sacred peace of quiet in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I'd never have believed you. But there it was: on the outskirts of the capital city.
We were soothed by the scything. The accompanying murmur of gentle conversation. That gorgeous, recovering city surrounded by farms where pitchforked haystacks mimic the shape of the mountains beyond.
When we returned to Erie, the air was a jarring cacophony of mowers, blowers, and edgers, as if our neighborhood was waging its own war on fertilized nature.
Much like it is right now.
The U.S. has its share of natural sounding places. But I wonder why we haven't valued quiet more around our own homes. Why we fail to make the connection between excess noise and excess stress.
In an interview in The Sun Magazine, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton says, "Our mental condition reflects our external environment. Most of us live in cities, which are noisy, chaotic places. As a result we tend to have a lot of mental chatter, not all of it coherent. When you go to a naturally quiet place, you'll notice first how physically loud you are – voice, footsteps, food wrappers, Velcro, zippers – but then you'll notice internal noise as well. After a day or a week you'll experience an internal shift … your ears will attune themselves to your new surroundings, and your mental chatter will quiet. You will recognize unnecessary thoughts as just that – unnecessary – and become acquainted with the place you're in rather than staying inside your head."
So many moments are frittered away in fighting our own mental skirmishes. We may not all resort to scything, but countless other choices could help us turn down the mechanized volume some, and reduce the noise in our heads.
If we could make peace in our minds, we'd have a much better chance of making it in our streets. In our city. In our world.
"That's one of the greatest lessons I've learned from being in natural silence," summarizes Hempton, "that we can begin to feel love for a place and, through it, for everything."
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.