I slam the door and then regret it, knowing I’ve not just broken but shattered the quiet that was both inside and out the house. It’s still dark out here, but I can see a faint gradient on the skyline, an ombre of different shades of dark navy. Through it I’m able to see the beginnings of something, of the sun rising on a new week.
I’m holding toast in my hands, the 6:30am leaving time being too much for my body to handle – something had to be sacrificed, and breakfast was that something. The need for food overpowers the cold and my hands are left bare to the elements as I eat as quickly as I can. Cold captures them with alarming speed. I swap my toast between hands, giving each hand precious seconds in my warm-ish pockets. My mind flits to the book I’ve just finished: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and I wonder if I can get frostbite on a morning as cold as this. I have to remind myself that I’m in Clarkston, not on the risky heights of Mount Everest.
In the weeks previously I’ve walked this path before the sun nears the world, silence and darkness making it so solitary that reaching the train station is like being reintroduced into society after months of retreat. I remember this feeling now, aware of the lack of humans around me. No cars pant past, no mothers or prams or dogs or teenagers run around me. I’m completely and utterly alone.
Unless you count the birds, which I do. Because welcoming in the day around me is birdsong. They call to each other and to me, singing and chirping and rejoicing. Unseen but not unheard. It’s all I can hear and as I finish my toast and lock my freezing hands in my jacket I feel glad that I’m here to witness this moment.
As I pass houses, lights switch on and off within them, but the people remain inside. The streetlights block out natural light and darkness alike and I wonder to myself what the world would look like without them. I want to switch them off but the birds remind me that focusing on that is wasting my time. The cold caresses my cheeks to pink and bites my hands to red. I put my hood up, appreciating the warmth that the fur lining provides.
When I reach the main road, I see my first cars of the day. They hum by me, the passing roar dimming the noise of the bird song. I hasten across the road and away from it, not wanting to lose the precious stories they have to tell. With them again, I wonder what they would be singing if I weren’t here. Have I somehow disturbed the natural sound of the birds with my lame attempt at getting up early? Or am I privy to a beautiful insight into their natural world that most people pass by in an attempt to doze in a cocoon of warmth?
I feel like I am in a special moment. I want to believe these birds trust me with this insight into their world. I have interrupted their routine, but they seem to have gladly welcomed me in as a passerby, an observer. As I walk closer to the station other birds join in, the magpies, the pigeons, all of them singing in a cacophony of noise that is so natural I wonder why I have never really heard it.
As I get closer to the train station, other noises creep in. The sound of the motorway sighing in my direction, a long breath of sadness at the start of a new week…‘the next train at platform 2 is the 7:08 train to Glasgow Central’…the builders at the new health centre hollering at each other to get started. The floodlights from the train station illuminate everything, except the birds, and I realise I can’t hear them anymore. I wonder absently if I can’t hear them because they aren’t there, or if I can’t hear them because the rest of the world is too loud now?
A week later, they’re still here. In fact, every Monday morning I note their presence as the sun climbs closer to the horizon. It leaves me wondering what other beautiful, natural things I’m missing as the noise and busy world block them out. What’s being hidden from me? Is there something in the quietness of the world that reminds us that no we don’t need to be running around all the time? Maybe moments of quiet are important, essential even, to surviving on this world – whether that’s in the form of a 6:30am walk or in a book in the corner of the library. Or maybe I’m talking rubbish, most likely due to the fact I was out of my house at such a ridiculous hour in the morning.
The thing about the quiet though is that we can’t normally hear it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there to find.