Finding Quiet

First the story, then some comments:

It was late at night. All little children were in their beds, fast asleep.
All except one.
The night wind brushed against a window.
“Shh-h-h,” whispered the wind. “Go to sleep.”
But the child could not fall asleep.
Outside, on the branch of a tree, Mockingbird was singing.

 “Mockingbird,” said the night wind, “will you stop singing so the child can go to sleep?”
But Mockingbird loved to sing. Music spilled from deep in his throat, as he sang of green woods, bright flowers, and warm summer nights.
“No,” said Mockingbird, ”I can’t stop singing until Cricket stops playing.”

 From the tall grass by the back steps came the cheerful ring of Cricket’s tune.
“Cricket,” said the night wind, “will you stop playing so Mockingbird will stop singing so the child can go to sleep?”
“No,” said Cricket, “I can’t stop playing until Frog stops strumming.”

 “Frog,” said the night wind, “will you stop strumming
so Cricket will stop playing
so Mockingbird will stop singing
so the child can go to sleep?”

 But Frog was deep in the swing, lost in the beat, with a night full of rhythm in his hands and feet.
“No,” said Frog, “I can’t stop strumming until Moth stops dancing.”

“Moth,” said the night wind, “will you stop dancing
so Frog will stop strumming
so Cricket will stop playing
so Mockingbird will stop singing
so the child can go to sleep?”

 But Moth loved to dip and twirl on widespread wings by moonlight.
“Impossible,” said Moth. “The night is too, too beautiful.
I can’t stop dancing until Moon stops shining.”

 “Moon,” said the night wind, “will you stop shining
so Moth will stop dancing
so Frog will stop strumming
so Cricket will stop playing
so Mockingbird will stop singing
 so the child can go to sleep?”

 But Moon’s glow was so strong, it turned the green meadow grass to silver.
“Hard to do,” said Moon, “hard to do.
 I can’t stop shining unless there’s a change in the weather.”

 Far to the west hovered a small dark shadow.
“Cloud,” called the night wind, “will you cover the earth so Moon will stop shining
so Moth will stop dancing
so Frog will stop strumming
so Cricket will stop playing
so Mockingbird will stop singing
 so the child can go to sleep?”

 “Only if you will carry me,” said Cloud.

 In a rush of cool air the night wind scooped up Cloud.
Soon a mist spread over the meadow. A gentle rain began to fall, tumbling down through the dark, splashing on the flat bay waters, skipping on the warm green earth.
Moon stopped shining.
Moth stopped dancing.
Frog stopped strumming.
Cricket stopped playing.
Mockingbird stopped singing.

 At last the night was dark, and quiet, and still.
The child snuggled under warm blankets, closed tired eyes, and fell asleep.

 “Good night,” said the wind.
                                                                         (Text copyright 1994 Katy Rydell)

Katy created WIND SAYS GOODNIGHT as a book for children but recently I’ve been reading it myself because it is lovely and soothing: it has a repetitive, poetic count-down that helps me slip into a quiet calm. It’s now out of print, but you can look for a copy in the library, at a used bookstore, or from a website – then you can see the softly colored illustrations by David Jorgensen that accompany the book.  But Katy’s words alone create beautiful images that take us into the lively stillness where moth dances and moonlight turns the green meadow grass to silver.

We all need quiet and it is becoming harder and harder to find. In her article, “The End of Silence,” in the November issue of THE ATLANTIC, Bianca Bosker writes that noise has long been a problem, especially at night,
“The earliest noise complaint in history also concerns a bad night’s sleep.  The 4,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh recounts how one of the gods, unable to sleep through humanity’s racket and presumably a little cranky, opts ‘to exterminate mankind.’ ”

Bosker has written most of her article about the disturbing racket humanity is currently making with the technologies used by the data centers that support all we do online. She is a fine, comprehensive reporter and the whole article is worth reading. Here though, I’d like WINN to focus on only a part of the problem – what happens to our ability to be mindful and self-reflective when we are constantly distracted by noise of one kind or another. Often we add to the din around us by choosing to be involved with the 24-hour news cycle that constantly blasts out headlines and alerts and the social media that offer up ever-available entertainment. It’s all part of the environment of agitating frequencies that captures our attention.

Bosker quotes studies that have shown for many years that even low level noise can affect our health. She writes,
“Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not. Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels – slightly louder than a purring cat.”

I found it particularly disturbing to read this comment:
“Noise might also make us mean: a 1969 study suggested that test subjects exposed to noise, even the gentle fuzz of white noise, become more aggressive….”

 She continues,
“The nature of noise is shifting. Some gripes from the 18th and 19th centuries  – church bells, carriage wheels, the hollering of street criers – sound downright charming to today’s ears. Since then, our soundscape has been overpowered by the steady roar of machines: a chorus of cars, planes, trains, pumps, drills, stereos, and turbines; of jackhammers, power saws, chain saws, cellphones, and car alarms, plus generators, ventilators, compressors, street sweepers, helicopters, mowers, and data centers which are spreading in lockstep with our online obsession and racking up noise complaints along the way.”

Bosker introduces us to acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton and his nonprofit Quiet Parks International which has a mission to save the quiet. You can now pay to visit a “Wilderness Quiet Park” in the United States and beyond our borders. When she asks him about the value of silence his answer says something many meditators and contemplatives already know:
“The further we get into quiet, the further we discover who we are.”
“When you speak from a quiet place, when you are quiet, you think differently. You are more uniquely yourself.”

With thanks to Katy for permission to share this story. I found it a wonderful way to become quiet. I hope you will too.

*     *     *     *     *
Katy Rydell has a Master’s Degree in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA. She was, for many years, a professional storyteller and a teacher of storytelling at Cal State, Los Angeles. She now lives in Portland, Maine.

WIND SAYS GOODNIGHT, by Katy Rydell, illustrated by David Jorgensen, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

The image that accompanies this post is by Miriam Zilles from Pixabay.


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One Comment Add yours

  1. Sally Hilton Chalfen says:

    Lovely, thoughtful, helpful post. And I love Kati Rydell’s story! She is a poet and a teacher.

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