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Cori Brown: The sound of silence | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Did you see the recent partial lunar eclipse? I am normally not up that late but I made an exception for the evening of Nov. 18 into the next morning.

I watched it for almost two hours. What a spectacular event and one I won’t forget for a long time.

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What made the eclipse especially notable was the length of the process. It was over 6 hours long. It will be nearly 600 years before one of that duration occurs again.

While I was watching the event unfold, I thought about the people in medieval times who would have seen a similar eclipse in the year 1440. I imagine their reaction would not have been one of awe like mine, rather one of fright and terror because they lacked the depth of knowledge we have today about such phenomena. They may have thought that the world as they knew it was coming to an end.

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As I watched the eclipse progress, it was as if time was moving in slow motion. It felt like the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth were taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh.

It was a quiet and peaceful respite from the frenetic pace we keep, especially now around the holidays. We do not have enough moments like this in our lives.

The recent partial lunar eclipse.
The recent partial lunar eclipse. (Cori Brown)

It was hypnotic to watch. Not only was it fascinating to see the moon turn from frosty grayish-white to a soft reddish-orange, but for whatever reason, stars I had never seen before sparkled so brightly. There were the usual constellations, but I also spotted numerous clusters.

One cluster in particular called Pleiades was especially beautiful and humbling to see so well.

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I could see more stars because the back side of our house has minimal light pollution. We sit in a spot of relative darkness (relative compared to living in town or near a large commercial or residential development). The many trees we’ve planted over the years to block out unwanted light help keep our little slice of the starry heavens just a bit darker.

I hope that some day more people will learn to value darkness by minimizing night time outdoor lighting and, when we have to, take advantage of downlighting instead.

Like the rare moments of slowing down and taking in the beauty of the darkness around us, we have an equally challenging time appreciating silence in our natural environment. For weeks now, I have been listening to the constant blast of leaf blowers around us (we ourselves are guilty as charged). I do use a less obnoxious battery-operated blower which helps a tiny bit but I can’t same the same for my partner Jim who uses a gas guzzling monster.

Add to it cars, farm tractors, lawn mowers, planes, trains and so many other sources of artificial noise that we seem bent on literally choking our ears to death on the unrelenting discord.

Now that most of the leaves are down and blown away, I finally have a few moments of silence lasting long enough to pick up some unusual bird calls in the yard. Confirmation of those calls came into view when I saw half a dozen cedar waxwings head into an eastern red cedar full of tiny blue seed cones. In no time, they scarfed up the cones, lingered a few more moments, and flew off.

I rarely see cedar waxwings, let alone have them in our own yard. To look at them, you would think you were looking at a piece of painted porcelain. A subtle head crest, black face mask, yellow tipped tail and red tipped wings speaks to artistic perfection when it comes to these birds.

A cedar waxwing sits perched in a tree.
A cedar waxwing sits perched in a tree. (Cori Brown)

I was so busy looking at the waxwings that it took me a while to realize that they had company. A few trees over from them, a perfectly camouflaged and very quiet brown creeper was doing what it does best, creeping up the trunk of a tree. As it turns out, their calls are very much like those of golden-crowned kinglets, who are numerous in our yard this time of year.

Having just read about their similarities, I hope to get a few more moments of silence from the artificial noise of our lives so that I can figure out who’s who in our woods.

As the holidays approach with a flurry of activity, I wish all of you more moments of time to slow down, dark night skies filled with a million stars and silence so deep that you can hear the snow fall.

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