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My Turn: It’s no easy task to escape from human-generated noise

  • Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist.<br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

    Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist.
    (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

  • Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist.<br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

My son and I were sitting by the water in Pawtuckaway State Park on a rich, warm spring day, when two people paddled by in kayaks. We waved a greeting, and they waved back.

“Gorgeous day!” I called to them.

“Lovely!” they agreed.

“Weather is great!”

“You know what else is great?” the man replied. “No motorboats!”

He was right. No motorboats. No engines of any kind.

It was one of those rare times when all you could hear was the sound of the water, the chirps of birds, the chuckling of wood frogs and the distant quacking of ducks going about the business of creating the next generation of ducks.

Pawtuckaway State Park is close to where we live, so we have come out regularly over the years to hike with the kids and the dogs.

We’ve been up all three peaks countless times: North Mountain, with its steep, meandering ascent that keeps fooling you into thinking you’ve finally reached the top; Middle Mountain with its hairpin turn, the trail ending at a ledge that is one of the most pleasant places I know for a picnic; South Mountain with its fire tower and grand view, gradually being lost to tree growth.

We come in from the Deerfield side, up Reservation Road. No campground access, but plenty of places to park the car and explore the trails. We study the map and plot out a course that fits our needs, from a short family walk to a daylong expedition.

In the summer, we’d go up to Round Pond and hang out on the rocks, taking a cooling dip and looking for fish. You can spot some big ones from up above when the sun is at the right angle.

When the boys were younger, they loved to go to the Boulder Field.

All around Pawtuckaway you can encounter sheer rock walls and enormous glacial erratics, those boulders that the retreating glaciers deposited, sometimes in the most absurd spots, tilted at crazy angles on the sides of mountains or across ravines.

Scaling them is a challenge kids can’t resist. Adults, too. Rock climbers come from all over to test their toes and fingers against the rough, cracked surfaces of the random monuments in Pawtuckaway. Unlike the sort who come with harnesses and tackle (and Pawtuckaway attracts its share of those, too), folks going bouldering attempt to climb with nothing more than simian dexterity. You can see these wiry men and women with enormous crash pads strapped to their backs, heading for Boulder Field to challenge rocks as big as a house.

We’d watch them in awe, picking their way up vertical surfaces, seeking hand and toe holds invisible to us.

March of time

My oldest boy isn’t really a boy anymore. He’s working full time and going to school part time. The younger one is still in high school and still likes going on hikes with me. We have only one dog now, and he’s getting a bit long in the tooth (I can relate). We still like going to Pawtuckaway and wandering around. Today we decided to go in from the Nottingham side, by the boat launch on Fundy Cove.

It was somewhere up the cove where the trail turns toward the water that we saw the folks in the kayak.

Yes, it was quiet. Snow was all gone, so no snowmobiles.

No motorboats, as they’d observed. ATVs are sharply restricted on the trails, but that doesn’t stop them half the time. There’s a minority that give the rest a bad name. They seem to think that just because they can go somewhere, they have a right to go there, and the devil take the rules or property owner’s rights. It breaks my heart to see the way those big tires tear up a trail and erode the banks of waterways.

But there were no scofflaws roaring through the park on this day. You could hear the wind in the trees and the spring melt gurgling and laughing its way down to the cove.

I don’t believe we have a proper appreciation of silence. We constantly have our devices beeping and prattling on at us. Every place you go there’s either canned music or a television in your face. We’re surrounded by motors whirring and whining. Have you ever had the power go out and suddenly realized just how quiet a house can be? Many of us are so used to the constant racket that we actually feel uneasy when confronted with silence. We feel it as an emptiness that we somehow have to fill. We don’t appreciate its peace, its gentleness.

My son and I, our old dog sniffing and poking along with us, followed the sound of a duck on Burnham’s Marsh, trying to get a peek at it, and found a vernal pool full of frogs singing their spring love songs. In the absence of human-generated noise, nature filled the void with all its sweet and subtle business: winter wrens, white-throated sparrows, quarrelsome jays and colloquial crows, scolding squirrels and chipmunks, furtive rustlings and exuberant splashes.

We were almost back to the car when my son looked up in disgust. I heard a gunshot in the distance.

We shared a resigned glance. It was nice while it lasted.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at

Legacy Comments2

What? No owls!? For a photo of one there and more, check out: from:

I thought this piece was going to be on all the human-generated noise one must tolerate in public places these days. It didn't used to be that way, but that's another topic. Pawtuckaway was a common summer day-trip destination for "the gang", back in the day (before all the wimmen-folk came along and sold off our beer coolers in their yard sales). Beautiful place, as I recall. Only thing I'd change on your piece concerns the scolding squirrels. Weren't they flanked by some "chastising" chipmunks? Back on point, I concur; total silence is almost unheard of these days.

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