In The Quiet
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Coming home after a trip to the city, I look forward to the warmth of my loved ones, the comfort of familiar faces, and the joys of country living: open space, good neighbors, unpaved land. But what I often crave most is the sound of this place, or rather the lack of sound. The silence. The quiet. The peace.

Here on the porch, I hear the drip of meltwater in the drainspout, the chirp of juncos at the bird feeder, the sound of a pickup truck on a far‑off section road, and the occasional bellowing of a cow or barking of a dog.

Days and nights in the city reverberate with alarms and whistles and recorded noises of all kinds, from disembodied voices to loud syncopated beats. The hum is nearly constant, like being at the seashore next to a continuously pounding surf. The waves roll in, one after another, day after day, until your body starts to expect them and your ears stop hearing them and you wouldn't be able to sleep nights if they were taken away.

Out here in the country things are different. There is still room for silence. Step away from the TV and the radio and the cell phone, and you often find something rarely found in the city: stillness. Rural places have their share of noise, to be sure. A combine in a field or a hungry herd in the feedlot produces plenty of decibels. Neighbors can be heard revving engines or pounding nails or taking target practice from miles away. And the passing freight trains wail at every crossing up and down the valley. 

But these are singular sounds, like simple sentences on a page with lots of white space around them, and they aren't heard all the time, night and day.

Cities are shared spaces, by their nature, and no matter where you go or what you do, you are almost always with other people. Whether you notice them or not, you are surrounded by people and the doings of people. They are with you on the sidewalks and in the buildings and behind walls or through windows or at the wheel of nearby cars and trucks, and you are almost never truly alone. There is no solitude.

Yet, here in the country solitude is a close cousin. It can be found just down the lane, or out the back door on a cold night. It watches and waits. Solitude is nothing but the absence of busyness. In that absence you can hear yourself think and maybe, if you're lucky, get acquainted with your heart.

Some folks are truly afraid of stillness and solitude. They find comfort in the noise and busyness of the city. The silence of country places drives them indoors to the security of a television. 

Others, like myself, find quiet to be a useful tonic for modern life. Framed in stillness, it is easier to appreciate music and conversation and even traffic noises. And a good dose of solitude, believe it or not, can make a person more social.

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