“Hey, come look at this…” I called out over my shoulder to Sarah Ellen. A half dozen or so years ago, we were joining with my dear mother to purchase a suitable house together (my father having passed on, and Mama having decided—a year later—that though she had proved she could live alone, she would rather live with family). The curious twosome tracked my voice from another part of the echoing house—with real estate agent now in tow—and found me staring into a small coat closet by the front door.
The little crowd arrived to see what I had found and discovered me pointing to the back of the closet. “A block wall,” I said. “This place is constructed of concrete block under that exterior siding!” I, at least, was excited. After all, I reasoned, here we had been in this house for a half hour or so walking around with no sound other than our own footsteps and voices, in a dwelling on a fairly busy street, within a quarter mile of the intersection with a very busy four-lane boulevard. And yet, it had been blissfully quiet. Ahhh, silence!
Now you may be the type who likes something audible going on most or all the time: the TV in the background, music on 24/7, the rising and falling of human conversation, etc. I guess I am one of the odd ones who prefers quiet except when I purpose to listen to something else. In fact for thought work (something like serious reading, writing, or studying), I find it virtually impossible to concentrate if I can hear the English language either spoken or sung in the background. It has been that way since I was a little boy. I guess that was why one could find me most often, when the book work was especially serious back at Ole Miss, tucked away in some cramped cubbyhole on about the fifth floor of “the stacks” at the library. The place gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “like a tomb.”
But there is, I have discovered, a downside to this much quiet. I miss the birds: from the lowly sparrows, finches, and other wee feathered wonders, to the jays and their larger cousins, all the way up to the countless hordes, the massive ever-undulating flocks of migrating blackbirds that come down south beginning here in probably another month in significant numbers; numbers that seem to fill the skies, the trees, and the yards in all directions. Oh, those blackbirds! For some odd reason, they are one of my favorite sights of winter down here and I am always sad to see them go when things warm back up.
And I miss their sounds. Inside my block house, I can only very faintly hear the morning song of the birds (another thing that I have always treasured). I relish the beauty and purity of the sounds of how they greet the new day. I even like the machine gun knock of the woodpecker (and there are as many woodpeckers in my neighborhood as I’ve got cousins in Pike County…that’s a lot by the way). So the sound insulation of this palace we call home is a really great thing; up to a point.
And the moral of this little account? Sometimes, in search for silence, you get it. And in getting it, you just might lose an awful lot that could have fed your soul. Be careful. And don’t forget to feed the birds this winter.