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Today is September 27, 2020


Listening to the silence

By Tony Kinton

Listening to the silence

That headline seems a blatant contradiction, at least when it is taken literally. If there is silence, there is nothing to hear. But experienced from a more abstract, poetic viewpoint, silence can readily be heard. I wrote once in some article or the other for some publication or the other that, “There is far too little silence to listen to in this world.” I stand firm on that.

The first time I recognized that I was listening to silence was in British Columbia. A young and virile 40-something back then. I had heard silence before but had never realized what I was hearing. But then, in BC, I came to know; the silence was near deafening.

I had been delivered there via Super Cub, the loudest little flying machine ever devised. I was the first in to spike camp, some 30 miles up the Graham River on past Christina Falls from base camp. Moose hunting, I was, and a comrade would join me the next time that disruptive contrivance came clattering from the skies an hour later. But until then, I was alone; there was silence.

Yet, it wasn’t silence in the restrictive definition of that word. There were sounds: snow splatting on spruce; the Graham gurgling over river rocks; wind pouring from the High Country; wolves in the distance, as Robert Service said of the huskies in “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” howl[ing] out their woes to the homeless snows. So, it was not silence that begged my attention. It was the absence of noise that grabbed and held on with an inextricable grip.

Few sounds were familiar. Gone was the racket of traffic, the humming of appliances, the conversations or passersby, the screams of electronics, the unnerving blast of mufflers on pickups, the throbbing rumble of sound systems guaranteed to assure a lucrative future for audiologists. Even the heavens were void of passenger jets. Nothing familiar. Just audible silence. I sat and waited and wondered and absorbed. Then I contemplated an odd sensation that flooded.

This sensation was one of opposing persuasions — anxiety and delight. Delight came from the quiet; anxiety, as curious as it seems, did as well. I recognized in the middle of this struggle with the unfamiliar that I was more accustomed to noise than to silence. Fear and reverie became dance partners, first one leading and then the other. I concluded that we humans regularly battle with choices, occasionally choosing the certainty of pain over the pain of uncertainty. Maybe at times choosing the other way around.

And then that boisterous Super Cub arrived — chasing darkness from behind tall peaks, scurrying with practiced haste, offloading and intruding with noise and schedules and deadlines. I felt a twinge of shame to admit that the familiar was tolerably comfortable. But at least for a week or so up here in these mountains, silence would be more abundant than noise. Then days later I would be again in that world replete with noise. Toxic noise.

I would soon, after that return to normal, long for and go in search of the unfamiliar. Silence.


Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. He lives in Carthage and is a Central Electric member. Visit for more information.

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