Seagull Outfitters Paddler’s Tales

The Absence of a Low Hum

By: Rick Sides

A Low Steam Floats Over a Mirrored Lake in Quetico Off of the Gunflint Trail at Dawn.This morning I was awakened in my tent by a crow outside. He was busy doing whatever crows do at 5:00 a.m. on a summer morning in the Quetico. Whatever it was, it required being loud by accepted a.m. standards, so I joined him in the world of the awake. And maybe because of the manner in which I actually woke up, I listened to the sounds of life here more intentionally, the audio backdrop of the boundary waters. The breeze made a slight stir through the large pine trees by the tent. The water was lapping gently on the rocks by the edge of the lake only a few yards away. Other smaller birds were making sounds and songs that come with daylight and its tasks and responsibilities. Occasionally there was a loon call in the distance. But often I noticed that when the breeze is calm, the water is smooth, and the birds are at rest, it is perfectly quiet here.

This kind of quiet is soothing and even somewhat mysterious. Its effects are deeply calming to our spirits, probably in ways we do not even understand. It is a quiet not born of my personal activity or efforts. It is a quiet almost stunning in its simplicity. It is a quiet that comes more as gift than a momentary phenomenon.

The more I “listen” to this kind of quiet, the more I am aware that my life if filled with a background of constant noise  a low hum of sound from which I rarely escape. At home it’s motors and fans and electrical devices. It’s radios and televisions and CD players. It’s clocks and bells and whistles that tell me when something is ready or done or demanding of my response. It’s even telephone calls from telemarketers that have a deal I cannot refuse.

Outside it is cars, cars, and more cars. It’s airplanes and trucks and more trucks. It’s lawn mowers and leaf blowers and whiney weed eaters. It’s horns and sirens and those insidious beepers that tell you that something, somewhere is going backward. (Never in my wildest dreams did I think our culture would give so much attention and creativity to the task of going in reverse.)

In public places it’s the constant backdrop of music, whether I want to hear it or not. It’s the blaring of public televisions keeping me informed of up to date developments from around the globe, 24 hours a day. It’s public conversations, voices and feelings, even those that I don’t want to hear but are made possible by the personal intrusion of someone’s cell phone. It’s background announcements and safety advice and instructions not to leave my baggage by itself. It’s electronic voices that sound like robots but give out human directions. Whatever it is, it is sound.

The quiet of the boundary waters is not the absence of sound, but rather the absence of sound that is not a natural product of this place. The quiet here connects me with this place, and if I let it, with the part of me that needs it embrace. I guess one morning I could get up earlier than the crows and make a lot of noise just to be heard. With my luck, the crows would think that it’s just another human being, probably going backward.

Paddler’s Tales