In my Truro homeowners’ association, a fifty-mile drive from mainland Massachusetts, I am alone all winter. The sole year-round resident. Mine is the single house for miles with lights lighted. But I am far from lonely, because the dour goddess who is Cape Cod makes amends with a gift.
Her gift is Quietude.
I capitalize the word out of reverence. Different from quiet, Quietude is a condition, a state . . . of stillness, tranquility, calm.
Throughout the long winter, the goddess’s maternal pneuma harbors fragile plovers, soaring terns and raucous crows. She plays mother to fox and deer, to coyote and wild turkey, to bat and heron. By her leave, doves—even robins—winter over. When nor'easters tear away her ocean beaches, she craftily persuades the Atlantic’s own currents to redistribute the displaced sand so as to lengthen the graceful sweep of her bending hand at Provincetown.
Winter’s sounds are simple out here:
- Snowflakes completing their frivolous drop to earth with a landing quiet as a kiss
- Unfettered winds sweeping off Cape Cod Bay, I their last stop before the cold vastness of the Atlantic
- Frozen waves hushing the otherwise obstreperous surf
All this, captured in the whispered poetry of Psalm 18:
The skies tell the story of the glory of God, the firmament proclaims the work of his hands;
day pours out the news to day, night passes to night the knowledge.
Not a speech, not a word . . .
Compare this to the babel of everyday society.
"Sound affects us psychologically and behaviorally, even though we're not aware of it," says sound expert Julian Treasure as reported by TechRadar. “Most retail soundscapes are accidental, incongruent with the brands, and mostly hostile."
In hospitals, sound levels from beeping machinery, computers, and ambient din have doubled in forty years. The noise afflicts patients—with degraded sleep and delayed recovery. It also contributes to dispensing errors by medical staff, which he claims are on the rise, too.
Another location where sound is not conducive to productivity is the open-plan office, an environment where concentration is virtually impossible, he says, claiming that workers in a cubicle farm are two-thirds less productive than on their own.
"We're designing environments that make us crazy," he concludes.
Henry Beston, on the other hand, spent 1926 into 1927 by himself in a tiny cottage that he built on Eastham’s ocean beach, about a dozen miles from where I live.
There he discovered Quietude. There he wrote his enduring classic, The Outermost House:
The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.
The “Old Cape” towns of Truro and contiguous Wellfleet have a vastly different character during summer.
During those few balmy months, as The New York Times describes, you can find “the entire faculties of Columbia and Harvard, the staffs of the Partisan Review and The New Yorker, and half the psychoanalysts on the Upper West Side.”
When I’m in bumper-to-bumper traffic during the height of our crazed and crowded summer tourist season, one of my favored expletives is: “If I don’t see you here in January, I don’t want to see you here in July.”
On a snowy and silent Truro morning, however, I’m thinking: “If you’re not here in January, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
In January, my passing by is ephemerally recorded
not in what Beston called “the soft passivity of beach sand,”
but in snow.
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at: Amazon