Say hello to silence

When I left the house this morning I was enveloped by silence. The early morning air was still cool and few people were about. The silence is welcome and, as I'm sure I've said before, it's one of the things I like best about living here. I hear only my footsteps on the path, the scrape of a stone on my shoe.

A woman walking two dogs crosses in front of me at the corner, and I think she must be training the younger one, for I repeatedly hear "heel! heel" and constant clucking, as though she were urging on a horse. I'm happy when she continues up the opposite side of the road, and now I can hear the twittering of unseen birds and the lonesome call of a dove.

Despite the busyness of the summer season here and the influx of tourists, its still possible to enjoy the silence, and I think of all those living in cities who must forego this luxury. I like cities myself, I enjoy the busyness, the sense of doing and accomplishment that goes with the hum and squawk of traffic and the sound of many feet hitting the pavement. Even when you have nothing of importance to do, just being surrounded by all that hustle-bustle can make you feel that your "nothing" has value. Even so, I'm glad I no longer live in a city.

As my walk grows in length and the hour gets later, more traffic appears. Early-service church goers pull into parking lots, tourists in overstuffed cars head up the pass, and cyclists breeze past on their way to the mountain's challenge. Silence gives way to daily life. I meet two other walkers, neither of whom speaks when I offer my casual "g-morning." I mark them down as tourists, for locals, even when strangers, inevitably speak; sometimes even stopping to comment on the weather or some other mutually satisfying occurrence. It's the advantage of a small town, and I like it.

That was also one of the things I liked about living in France; unless you were in the midst of a crowd, everyone said "bon jour" or "bon soir" when you crossed paths. I missed it on our return and decided that I would carry on the tradition. A few weeks ago I came up behind an older man slowly walking a bicycle. He was clearly a traveler, but clean and neatly dressed. He wore a blue backpack on which he had scrawled, in bold white lettering, "Danger. Do Not Talk to Me! followed by a skull and crossbones. I read that sign and without giving it too much thought decided that a "good morning" didn't count as talk. So when I passed him I spoke. I was surprised to hear him reply with a cheerful "Good morning" and then, "Beautiful day isn't it?" I turned and raised my arms. "Gorgeous," I declared. And then I turned back and walked on, wondering what it was about talk that he didn't like.

Maybe he just prefers the ringing in his ears to the empty chatter of others. Or maybe, like me, he just can't get enough of silence.