Sunday, October 1, 2023


The most significant change in my life since June 10, besides the disappearance of William, has been an increase in quietness. I thought that I'd write a little about that, since I find it important. My current house is on a gravel, dead-end road in a town with a population of only about 4129. During the rush hour, I can hear some traffic from another nearby road, and I can hear distant trains, but most of the time it is very quiet, except for an occasional barking dog or a vehicle driving on the gravel road. Also, some of my neighbors shoot guns on weekends. Of course, the men also like to operate heavy equipment, and that can be loud too. The fourth of July was very noisy. But at night, the loudest sound usually comes from barred owls, which sometimes wake me up. It is so quiet during the day that I can hear my digestive system working, and initially I thought that there might be something wrong, but there isn't. For me, this is an improvement over my previous house, which was on a busier road.  

Noise is currently being taken up as a health concern by medical researchers. Particularly in cities, the constant background noise is now thought to produce biological stresses that may induce various diseases. However, in the modern world, the absence of noise itself is thought to induce stress, and there are plug-in background noisemakers to reduce the stress of silence. 

My hearing isn't perfect, and, since 1987, I've had tinnitus, which sounds like a continuous high-pitched tuning fork. Most of the time I don't notice it, but it probably interferes with hearing external high-pitched sounds. Even so, I am sensitive to most sounds, particularly those produced by animals. So, when it was quiet, I heard the cat coming through the cat door and mice in the wall when others didn't. Coyote howls could be loud. In this vein, I think that, as biological entities, we are innately attuned to our environments, and when we block out those sounds with earbuds or noise cancelers, we may be inducing stresses that adversely affect our health. I think that the internet and all of the associated gadgets, along with the social changes caused by social media, have created a kind of cognitive dissonance that may adversely affect our health. So, even though I don't currently have much of a social life, I am probably more in tune with nature than most people and am less likely to become afflicted with the illnesses that hunter-gatherers never experienced before technology altered the human biome. Starting from this concrete base of biological experience, it isn't difficult to see new kinds of dysfunction and illness emerging unpredictably and disrupting the lives of millions of people. 

While a low population density and little noise may have disadvantages in terms of social enrichment, they can facilitate a meditative mental state and unexpected health benefits. I find that the people here in Brandon, though subject to many of the social ills evident elsewhere, are a little more relaxed and at peace with themselves even than the people in Middlebury, which is just up the road but twice the size in terms of population.

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