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Silence


What are you hearing right now?

I hear a very faint noise inside the computer. I just heard Lily’s cat feet hit the floor downstairs as she jumped off her table by the window. Now I hear her downstairs lapping water from her bowl. I hear keys clicking as I type. I don’t hear any sounds from outside at the moment. If I opened a window, I would hear crows. The ambient sound in the room is about 35 decibels — typical of a quiet room. The computer keyclicks peak at about 60 decibels.

A story in today’s Washington Post says that a quarter of Americans age 29 to 69 have hearing loss caused by noise. I’m surprised that it’s not a great deal worse than that.

When I left San Francisco, one of the things I was looking for was silence. Cities are extremely noisy. Just walking down Market Street at lunchtime exposes you to a steady noise over 100 decibels. A passing bus, or — cover your ears — a siren could reach 120 decibels. The threshold of discomfort is given as 120 decibels. City streets are uncomfortable places. In San Francisco, the noise never stops. The sirens went on all night, as did loud buses or trucks and loud motorcycles.

Hearing is an exception to the “use it or lose it” rule that usually applies to the human body — to our brains and our muscles. With our hearing, the less you use it, the better off you are, and the sharper you’ll be when you’re old.

It’s a noisy world. Silence is a refuge. I hope you’re having a quiet day.


Screen shot from an iPhone app that measures sound levels


4 Comments

  1. Beverly wrote:

    I’ve noticed that it’s gotten much noisier in San Francisco in the past five years. I live on Stanyan Street, near the Upper Haight, and hear sirens from police cars, fire engines, and ambulances, as well as the street noise caused by pedestrians at all hours. I cherish silence!

    Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Beverly… Yes. I was not too far from you, on Buena Vista Avenue at Park Hill. The noise never stopped. I used to wear noise-cancelling headphones at times. The more stressed I was, the more the noise bothered me. You’re in a great neighborhood, though.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  3. DCS wrote:

    I have asked you to please make this the official poem of the Abbey. I will make this plea again. It is Wallace Stevens, and it follows unformatted:

    The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

    The house was quiet and the world was calm.
    The reader became the book; and summer night

    Was like the conscious being of the book.
    The house was quiet and the world was calm.

    The words were spoken as if there was no book,
    Except that the reader leaned above the page,

    Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be

    The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

    The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
    The house was quiet because it had to be.

    The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
    The access of perfection to the page.

    And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
    In which there is no other meaning, itself

    Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
    Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

    — Wallace Stevens

    Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Very fine poem. Thanks, DCS …

    Friday, February 10, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

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