Ahhh, the silence …

Dear Uma: Sometimes it seems everyone I know has get-up-and-go and I am the only one who has sit-down-and-stop. Even Watson Lake, not famous for its high energy, has its resident perpetually busy folks and it is in the spring they are most in evidence.

Dear Uma:

Sometimes it seems everyone I know has get-up-and-go and I am the only one who has sit-down-and-stop.

Even Watson Lake, not famous for its high energy, has its resident perpetually busy folks and it is in the spring they are most in evidence.

Suddenly our deserted streets are alive with walkers, joggers, cyclists and dutiful dog owners. Posters advertise a parade of community events, and there are gardeners out raking the last snow from the dirt. Friends call to see if I am interested in going for a walk, attending an outdoor event or learning to tat. No one seems to want to just sit around with a cup of tea or a martini.

Why am I so lazy? Is there some sloth in my DNA? This is not a new condition; most of my life has been spent in slowly wandering around looking and listening, content to simply be wherever I was at any given time.

Maybe it’s because I don’t remember ever not having everything I needed and most of what I wanted. Fame and fortune did not number among my ambitions, nor did a desire to be busy at anything. The most driving characteristic I have is curiosity and, while it is as alive in me as it ever was, these days most of my wonderings can be assuaged with a click of the mouse.

Maybe my problem, if it is one, is that I am so easily made happy. Wind-dried sheets, the calls of ravens, a cold beer, putting on a favourite sweater, the sight of Pete frowning over his lures or practising with his fly fishing rod in the backyard – all these things make me happy.

A combination of age and injury has made me more laid back than ever and far from decrying these limitations, I welcome them. I have an even deeper appreciation of the fact that my life is so very good, and at the same time a deeper sorrow for those who are not so fortunate.

I may not be able to go in water, but at least I live in a country where there is water to go into, and I may be too old to die young, but at least I live in a place where I am likely to get even older.

The other afternoon Pete and I spent some time putting out the deck furniture and arranging it to our satisfaction. This satisfying arrangement ends up exactly the same every year, but every year we fiddle around moving things here and there while having a discussion about how and where to set up our summer living room. Task done, we were dozing in our deck chairs, the fresh air and the spring sun making it difficult to do anything else after such a prodigious effort, when I became conscious, in a new way, of the silence surrounding us.

The quiet of our neighbourhood has always been much-appreciated since moving here, but this was a first-time awareness of the difference between quiet and silence.

I’ve felt it before on some subliminal level, the profundity of the silence here. It must be the wilderness, the vastness of it and the smallness of us, that makes it a tangible thing, a thing not felt anywhere else in my experience. I don’t miss it when I am in the city, but I notice it when I am home; it is home now, this special sort of quiet. It has the effect of being deeply calming and soothing, of allowing a host of other minute sensations and sounds to gradually come to the forefront of consciousness and make themselves felt. In this silence I hear my own blood and heartbeat, the breath coming in and out of my body, and the sounds of my efficient digestive system at work; I can almost feel and hear my hair growing. Then my awareness moves outwards to the whispery sound of a light breeze, and the tiny rustling in the woods. Birds, distant dogs barking, and the sudden voice of a raven – all are separate and distinct, yet do nothing to disturb the depthless well of silence.

Pete knew what I meant when I tried to describe this “sound of silence;” he’s also been aware of it, and glad of it. After awhile, he pointed out that his gladness was being eroded by my segue from talking about the silence to banishing it completely with my story about the monastic bats of Madagascar.

I stopped telling him about the bats, but I really feel compelled to share this information with someone, so you are it, Uma, as usual.

These bats are known as sucker-footed bats, for obvious reasons, and their conservation status was listed as “vulnerable” until the discovery of a population at an agricultural research station led to their current status as “least concern.”

It also led to the bats being the subject of a more in-depth study and this study was the work of Professor Paul Racey of the University of Aberdeen. It is Racey who found two particularly interesting features of these bats.

First, they have no parasites. Almost all wild mammals have ectoparasites, so this is weird. But what is even weirder, and likely the best reason to continue to fund research on these animals is – no females. Four times a year for several years Racey has visited the bat roosts and netted bats but he has never netted a female sucker-footed bat. Another population was discovered near the coast, 100 kilometres away and no females were to be found there either. They know there must be females somewhere nearby because they have found juvenile males with their wing bones not fully grown; a fact that shows they have not yet migrated. No one knows where the females live, or why this species sexually segregates.

Speculation has it that the females may be living in an adjacent better-quality habitat, an idea which if it doesn’t give rise to even more conjecture, ought to.

Just how intelligent is that? To leave those troublesome teenaged boys with Dad and take your daughters to a place of good food and peaceful surroundings.

Obviously the guys have no idea of where the ladies go, or they would be there, gobbling up the choicest goodies and rendering the forest noisy with their whoops and hollering. I wonder how long it took the females to figure it out; a nice long break from the old man every year, just to keep the relationship sweet; and after awhile, why not leave the boys behind, too? Give the fellows a chance to do a little bonding, while the less abundant food sources would keep them all busy, in a good way.

Teenage girls are no picnic, either, if the tales I hear from those who have been involved with them are in any way true. Maybe the day is fast approaching when the women will decide to leave the girls behind, too, as they head off on their long vacations. Then the kids can grow their wing bones, dad can hunt and gather, and mom can hang with her girlfriends in the cool resort where food is plentiful and the jungle is full of the sounds of silence.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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