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Pigeons and Silence

I was looking for somewhere to sit and draw. I headed to the local park, hoping beyond hope that by some miracle the crowds had bypassed it, but as with every other park in the city these days the place was in full swing. The grass was a green lake, barely visible for all the clusters happy, noisy people.

The basketball court adjacent to the park was packed too, with young men totally immersed in their game. It was a beautiful thing to watch –  the focus, the movement, the coherence and wordless communication of the players, much like a flock of birds when they all suddenly take flight in response to some unseen trigger. Someone had brought a speaker and music was playing.  It wasn’t quiet, not by any means. It was alive and rich and just right for that moment. But if I wanted solitude I’d be better off sitting on the curb of a tree-lined street.

Eventually I did find a park that was pretty much empty. The late afternoon was gorgeous, with fallen cherry blossoms carpeting the boulevards around the park. There was me, a few families with young children, and a couple of pigeons walking their funny walk, orange eyes checking me out on the chance that I had something for them. A child raced over and chased them. The pigeons hopped and took short flights in response. The child ran circles after them. I thought: “Should I be annoyed? Should the parents call the child away?” It was a primal interaction, and the child was very young. His instincts said “chase,” and the birds seemed to know he was no major threat. After a minute, the pigeons flew up into a tree. The park sank back into quiet. I looked around. I had come to draw, and I did. There was a small patch of brunnera sending out strings of tiny azure blue flowers, very much like forget-me-nots. I sketched what I saw: the five petals on each flower, the ripening seed pods further down the stem. All quietly happening in the park. And happening in every park where something grows: dandelions, plantain, the very least of the fancies finding ways to exist. This is what you can see if you luck out and find a calm spot, even one that includes a small child’s hunter moment.

Sometimes I think about school playgrounds and the cacophony that erupts on them at recess and lunchtime.  Yet no matter how crazy the playground, you can always find at least one kid who has brought a book outside, found a relatively quiet corner and is lost to everything but the world as it emerges from her reading. Contrast this with the child who never seems to know silence. He’s the king of the playground castle, shrieking his dominance from the tops of the monkey bars and slides. Still, I have seen this same child climb the low branches of a tree and go limp and silent. I have seen the seriousness, the contemplation, the simple tiredness sweep over his face.

In my hunt for a quiet park yesterday I began to imagine what might change for the better if we had some parks that are officially quiet, no speaking zones – little refuges of silence in the city. It’s like at the public swimming pool where there’s a sign in the sauna that reads “Please Whisper.” Could we create such a place and would any kid in their right mind want to go there? Or would it become the territory of uptight meditators? It could be an interesting experiment.

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