Quiet is one of the only things not easily acquired in Toronto; it’s particularly rare where I live. We live cheek by jowl with the sidewalk on a rather busy street; there’s a well-used train track nearby (I don’t really notice the constant rumbling anymore, but the pictures that suddenly fall off the wall after years of apparent stability, and the drywall screws working their way back out into the open air, seem to); and we have a very old and possibly senile cat who spends much of his time either roaring at me or having very loud and mournful, but also possibly threatening, conversations with his plush lobster.
I’m in what may as well be a different country right now; it doesn’t get much quieter than rural Prince Edward Island. My darling and I are here visiting his mom; she has a dog, but I haven’t heard him bark even once. The crickets and birds I can’t identify talk pretty constantly, but they’re not noise; they’re also part of the quiet.
Quietness here is about the lack of urban squalling and rushing about and going and going and going; it encompasses my being able to see stars in the sky, even the Milky Way, for the first time in years; it’s about riding a borrowed bicycle around the village and out onto the highway for a stretch and seeing only one car; it’s about walking along the shore listening to Beach House and being unable, for a moment, to distinguish the seagulls in one of the songs from the seagulls on the beach; it’s watching herons, beasties my mother-in-law rightly says look like they belong at the back end of pre-history, squabbling for the best hunting ground; and it’s about an eagle, not fully grown, flying across my path, not seven feet away, and neither of us feeling nervous about it (I may have gently clapped my hands in delight, however).
I don’t think I could live here. While sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in people and vehicles and noise and light in Toronto, its broad and permeable boundaries give me a sense of freedom I find I can’t comfortably live without. But while I love that I can ride my bicycle for 20+ km in one direction without leaving the city, I needed to come here to shore up my mental defences against the noise and the heat and the emergencies that never end. (A knowing wink to countryman and delicious, mad flake Leonard Cohen who, as I’ve learned from Pico Iyer, found Buddhism provides yet another route to the quiet that saves and restores.)
Maybe I mean spiritual rather than mental, but likely the words don’t matter; I feel as though I’ve been on a retreat that’s so far removed from structure and meaning and expectation that even “retreat” is too dangerously laden a word to use here. Maybe it’s been like a good, old-fashioned rest cure.
There’s an old abandoned church here for sale; apparently, it’s going for less than $200,000. I told my husband after we’d peered into its front window and noted that only 3.5 pews worth of furniture remained, that if I won the lottery I’d buy the place and turn it into something amazing. I would probably only turn it into a library. Not only a library; rather, a library for those who find even rural villages on tiny islands to be too noisy and need regular breaks from the voices of the crickets and the other humans pottering around: a temple to silence and sitting comfortably with the words of the dead.
The quiet will begin its inevitable unravelling tomorrow. My father will be coming to visit and he is lovely but not for having a still, small voice. Then, back to Toronto on Saturday and to work on Monday. But I will take a small piece of this silence back with me; and I will try very hard to keep it alive.