Noise, light and actual pollution is so last season. This spring and summer presents a much less tech soundtrack, whose playlist consists of breezes and birdsong
Listen to silence, it has so much to say.
Accidental king of the 21st century inspo quote, Rumi’s sage but ubiquitous advice has become almost as teeth-gnashing as those ‘Keep Calm and Drink Wine’ posters. However, that we’re still nabbing his many nuggets nine centuries later suggests the man had a point.
Across the globe, we’re witnessing more wildlife on our doorsteps than we’ve seen in decades, the glorious lack of noise, light and actual pollution during the pandemic creating luxurious conditions for flora and fauna. It’s not that there are suddenly more birds nesting this spring. They’ve always been there, except now we hear them so much more clearly and, crucially, we’re taking the time to listen.
All five of our senses have become heightened by unseasonably mute streets. Without full-time jobs to scurry to, many more of us are noticing the translucent neon of sun-filtered leaves, the mild funk of wild garlic, the baked-warmth of a park bench, the lactic tang of the sourdough we proudly baked ourselves – and the unbridled orchestra of nature in bloom. And you don’t need to live in the rambling countryside to tune in. It’s simply about adjusting frequency.
I once lived in Dublin 1, where the hush of C-19 is significantly more palpable than where I’m now in Howth. Even so, without the springtime stream of day trippers that turns into a giddy torrent in summer, my peninsula soundtrack is distinctly more serene. No omnipresent drone of car engines or vehicular honks, no wind-carried bluster of marauding teenagers or laboured Thin Lizzy cover versions from a busy beer garden.
Even the infamous seagulls are placid: without tourists mindlessly tossing them scraps, they’re each forced to hunt at sea than have the usual brawls over chipper-chips. Meanwhile overhead planes have become so rare, their amplified roars have taken on an almost ominous quality.
A few nights ago I woke up at 6.30am to an indeterminate mechanised racket: the return of some construction or other, thanks to the government’s recently relaxed industry restrictions. The noise was so loud and alien to the point of monstrous.
As I type I can hear a lorry reversing somewhere and it makes me sad and anxious. We all want Ireland to reopen soon, and for our jobs to be restored, but I can’t help worrying what we might lose when we refuel our tanks, literally and figuratively.
Combine self-isolation impatience with the stunning weather, and the roads are already much busier than a month ago, our neighbourhoods already louder. It’s a blessing and a curse; we want normal back, except the old normal now seems daunting and perversely anachronistic. We’ve seen what quality time looks like and will demand more holistic and innovative approaches to modernity.
A few years ago I hiked sections of the Iveragh peninsula, Co Kerry, and was enveloped by a soundscape of perpetually rushing water, wind rushing through feral grasses, songbirds I couldn’t yet name and the intermittent bleat of lambs. We didn’t pass a human soul for three hours. After the din of Dublin, it felt like a rare gift; a literal breath of fresh air.
It’s hard to find a spot entirely devoid of manmade noise in the developed world these days, but there in Kerry I found it. During the lockdown I’ve had these moments, too, and will hold them dear whatever comes next.
Listening to silence is not enough. It’s about learning from it, too
For this reason I’ve never understood hill walkers who wear headphones. Joggers, I get it – who doesn’t need throbbing EDM or, that old chestnut, Surviver’s Eye of the Tiger, as a source of motivation? But if you’re striding past hedgerows or along undulating hillocks, why would you sensorially deprive yourself of the cadence of a humble wren, the shush of leaves, a babbling brook, a thrumming bee, or even a pair of fornicating crows (“get a nest!” you’ll soon shout, reneging that at least their lockdown libidos are thriving while ours shrivel)? This is the golden silence we speak of.
But listening to silence is not enough. It’s about learning from it, too. And so the last words must go to a certain boffin you may have heard of – Albert Einstein: “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.”
Illustration by Laura Kenny
Read more: Just like bees working together to keep a colony alive, we too need to think as a community
Read more: 5 Netflix documentaries to watch for Earth Day 2020
Read more: Second-wave anxiety: Psychologists on how to cope with our new normal