Musings about silence

I’ve been meditating on the concept of silence since being here and coming across some post on f b about the benefits and even necessity of silence for human wellbeing. The fireworks of new year’s eve which woke me up have been on my mind as I see posts on f b to do with the dangers of fireworks for our beloved pets – dogs and cats. Also since I don’t know anyone here yet I have been spending an inordinate amount of time alone (not lonely by any means).

A 2011 World Health Organization report called noise pollution a “modern plague,” concluding that “there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.”

Yes I am in paradise where I can have a more or less peaceful walk a few kms on an ocean beach and have a swim on a daily basis, but it has struck me how there is always noise in my early morning ritual. I don’t mean the sounds of the waves or leaves rustling from the wind in the trees or birds flying overhead. I am talking about human made noise, either other people’s voices, music from bars and restaurants – yes one beach bar actually sometimes starts playing music at 6:30 a.m. I imagine for the workers who are setting up the beach lounge chairs and umbrellas – I mean really!!, and of course occasional boat engines and vehicular traffic.

I am learning that this island nation is so very small, and despite a population under 300,000, there is not a lot of room to get away from the sounds of humans when I look at a map. Of course I have yet to venture to the east coast or to the north or to the interior so I hope to be proven wrong but I have my doubts.

I have chosen a spot for my swim which is located at the north end of the beach, a place that not all walkers choose to go to, as they seem to prefer to turn around about a 100 meters further south. Definitely no one swims here. The swimmers just tend to congregate in certain spots, one being the closest to their mode of transportation. It never ceases to amaze me how beach goers rarely venture away from the amenities and/or people, seemingly not having an issue with lying like sardines next to others.

I was actually a little concerned about this. I thought why aren’t folks swimming here? Is it not safe with some undercurrent? Is the water possibly somewhat polluted here with a film of fuel from the boats? At this end of the beach are large coral rocks like an embankment, and on the other side of these is what is called the Careenage. I had to look this up. So this is the place where historically ships were careened onto their sides to be repaired, scrubbed and painted. The downtown of Bridgetown is right over these rocks, with a pedestrian and car bridge to cross over from one side of the water to the other. Now large yachts and fishing boats are moored here.

Fortunately I have nothing to worry about and now have a more or less peaceful place to swim. I can almost imagine I am the only one here if as I float on my back and I look up at the large trees that are growing on top of the embankment.

Silence or the lack thereof was definitely an issue living in Lima for obvious reasons. You just had to adjust. The fan was my friend for enabling me to sleep, being that white noise to mask more or less the sounds of city life. As a light sleeper this was a lifesaver.

And so here in Barbados I am once again using the fan at night to mask the neighbourhood sounds – also because it is hot here at night with the air so still. Fortunately, the sounds of the neighbours are nowhere near as loud compared to Lima, but they can still be heard – barking dogs, crowing roosters, car traffic, children screaming or other humans chatting, music playing (thankfully reggaeton is not the music of this nation, that is for the Jamaicans).

So I was wondering well what about all those nature sounds, like the constant crashing of the waves. When the folks do their research about silence and human health, are they including mother nature sounds as well? I realize that the rhythmic sounds of the waves are healing in and of themselves but the bigger the wave the louder the crash. I think I know the answer. There is something likely primordial about sounds of nature, including the sounds (and sight) of sitting by the fire that we humans have done for thousands of years. There is no such thing as complete silence when you can still hear your heartbeat.

What about ‘silence’ of sight? What I mean by this is being able to be in a place in the natural environment and not be able to see any signs of human activity – no power lines, no fencing, no roads or trails. On a rationale level you usually know that humans may have very well traveled throughout the landscape, forest or desert, but as on the beach, the footprints of humans disappear quickly, so you can pretend/imagine that no human has been there before.

I gather that this island because of the 100s of years of colonization, has very little left of its original landscape, on land that is. Very similar to Nova Scotia where the original forests have been cut down, regrowth being repeatedly cut like 7 or 8 times, and still continuing today. I have been told that there are 2 locations on the island that have not been touched. which I do plan on visiting in the coming months. Again similar to NS (I think of Kejimkujik National Park).

As I walk along the beach, I am sometimes mesmerized by the patterns of the water and sand as the waves crash and then recede. Almost hypnotic if not hallucinatory. To be on acid or similar – now that would be quite the trip that you would just stand or sit there transfixed for hours.

I know enough from traveling and living in different places that folks get used to the noises surrounding them, after a short while not being conscious of this background phenomena. I myself got used to this in Lima, although as the years pass, I am realizing that I have less tolerance for this noise over a span of time. It makes me irritable. One reason I just don’t really care for cities that much any more except in small doses.

Having had the weeks back at the farm in between Peru & Barbados, I so truly appreciated the peace and quiet of our rural property. But once again I am surrounded by human noise. There is no respite from it. I can’t help but feel sorry for the folks of Bridgetown although I could simply be projecting here. I wonder have they experienced silence?

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2 Responses to Musings about silence

  1. Linda says:

    Interesting that you write about silence/noise in Barbados. I will make a sweeping generalization and say that the people of the Caribbean islands love loud noise. I have encountered music being played at a volume that can only be described as deafening in many of the islands – Tortola, Antigua, St Lucia, Anguilla, and Saint Vincent to name a few. I don’t understand why so loud, but it is always so. What in the culture would cause the people to find extremely loud music (i.e. noise!) so pleasurable? Perhaps the isolation and peacefulness makes humans seek out the opposite as escapism. Check out a party venue (a jump up) and see if you can tolerate the volume for more than 1/2 hour. That is a dare. LOL Look forward to seeing you upon your return to our peaceful corner of the planet.

    • wwolfvan says:

      Lovely to hear from you and thanks for your thoughts. I sometimes wonder about some people’s fear of silence. Outside noise can also hide the inside noise. I am looking forward to some silence at our farm after the ‘noise chaos’ we have just gone through – check out my next post. I look forward to hanging out when we are both back in NS.

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