The title was inspired by the words of Robert Service: “Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it.” Yes go and do it – experience it – don’t take our soul rendering wilderness majesty for granted until suddenly we find it gone, unretrievable, lost forever.
A visitor from Toronto stood at the top of Blueberry Mountain surveying hill after hill as far as the eye could see – forests dressed by the riotous colours of autumn. “Oh what a blessed spot!” Another said: “I forgot how intoxicating the air can be!” Similar evocative statements are repeated time and time again from city folk experiencing what we have in Lanark Highlands. I accompanied a Swiss couple to the top of Blueberry. They gazed in silence before stating: “How glorious!” I was taken back as they live in the Swiss Alps. “Oh yes the Alps are beautiful, but we would see cars winding their way below us and houses everywhere. This is utterly different.”
Children say it best. I was most touched by the writing of Rayna Critchly who penned A LITTLE RAY OF HEAVEN recounting a visit by the Photography Club of the Sacred Heart School in Lanark..
“While the rest of us were left speechless by the view, a fellow student said: “ A picture can’t begin to show how beautiful it really was! Walking up to the top of the Mountain, a silence filled the air. We were all thinking the same thing when suddenly a one syllable word was heard – “Wow!”
HEAVENLY SIGHTS VANISHED
Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that if the stars only showed themselves once in a 1000 years, they would be declared a miracle of the ages. Would he not, as should we, be reduced to tears at the news that the world has lost their night skies. A staggering 99% of Americans live under polluted skies and 80% of North Americans live where they can not see the milky way.
I once felt smug when visitors from large cities expressed wonder at the awesome splendour of our night skies. No more. I cannot imagine it – it’s too painful to contemplate the loss I would feel if these sacred sights were taken from me. Remember those evenings when the stars seemed close enough to pluck from the skies? Can you imagine being unable to introduce these heavenly experiences to your grandchildren? Equally heart-wrenching is to know the grandchildren may not care. They cannot mourn what they have never known.
SACRED SILENCE – NO WHERE
There is no place left where silence reigns supreme. Gordon Hempton found only 12 sites in the continental U.S. having intervals of 15 minutes free from man-made noises. Even national parks and protected wilderness average less than five minutes intervals.
This is scary – a threat to our well-being. People moving into cities initially think they will go nuts from the constant bombardment of sound but in a short period of time state they no longer notice it. Science tells another story. Our physiological systems still register the noise to the detriment of our health. What is happening is what researchers term “learned deafness” a protective measure against all the background noise. Our brain works feverishly to block out the sounds we do not need but in so doing develop a state of brain fatique.
I tried unsuccessfully to dispute this nightmarish claim that places of silence, if not already extinct, are endangered. Our family, over a 12 week period, camped in U.S. parks and wilderness areas. We loved the beauty but missed the quiet and solitude we found at home. This trip made me realize how insidiously and quickly the process of nature amnesia overtakes us. Following one typical night when I found that sleep was hard to come by due to the distant sound of highway traffic, one lady said she came here every summer for “the peace and quiet.” We stayed overnight at my cousin’s home and he remarked he was glad they lived in a quiet neighbourhood. Half jokingly I said: “Quiet compared to what, living next to an airport?” He laughed; having visited Flower Station he immediately realized our perception of quiet was of a different order.
I began to wonder if I too was suffering from nature amnesia – just how quiet was home? I visited several protected areas within 150 km west of Ottawa. To my surprise none met the 15 minute test. I had previously been oblivious to the background hum of distant highway traffic. Then, with decibel meter in hand, I spent hours on the trails of cliffLAND carefully recording time intervals free from man-made intrusions. Finally I could say this is a place that met the fifteen minute challenge: a sanctuary of silence. The intervals would have been much longer if not for the occasional, usually muffled, sound of aircraft.
We know silence is important. Humans process natural sounds differently. It has a calming effect, bringing inner peace and serenity and has a remarkable restorative effect.
THE OBVIOUS QUESTION IS: “Why are parts of Lanark Highlands blessed with wilderness, pure air, night skies, and sanctuaries of silence rarely found elsewhere?
Likely dumb luck. Highways 7 and 17 part ways west of Ottawa, one diverting towards Toronto and the other towards Thunder Bay. Lanark Highlands is that lucky space in between – largely untravelled and unknown – a lonely yet precious paradise. It makes us remarkably unique, part of a glorious wilderness concert hall – soul stirring night skies and awesome sanctuaries of silence. Dumb luck – fine! But let us jealously protect and experience the little we have left. In the words of Robert Service: “Then for God’s sake go and do it!”