For the worst two months of Ontario’s winter we’ve escaped to a small English village in the still mostly rural county of Norfolk; it’s winter here too, but here that means the occasional overnight frost and daytime temperatures anywhere between 4 and 12 degrees C. There are flowers out, snowdrops and winter aconite and primula. It rains a bit, but we also have beautiful sunny days, and it rarely rains hard enough, or long enough, to mean we can’t get a good walk in every day.
This morning, in glorious 7 degree C sunshine, we were standing on a high point on Roydon Common, a large expanse of heathland a few miles from our village. It’s about 2 km square (a bit more than a square mile), inhabited by birds and roe deer, netted with walking paths, grazed by some Dartmoor ponies, and mostly empty of humans except a few dog walkers. We were looking north-east: to the west is the market town of King’s Lynn and the bay of the North Sea called The Wash; in all other directions, it’s farmland.
We have something here we didn’t realize we were missing even in our rural home in Ontario: quiet. The Ontario house is 4 km or so north of the major highway into Toronto (the equivalent of an interstate or a motorway) and it is never quiet: truck and car traffic is heaviest morning and evening but it is constant, all day, every day. Even 4 km away, with the prevailing winds bringing the sound to us, the highway is a background noise to all we do, in or out of the house. A railway runs through our home village: it’s a spur line, with trains two or three times a day, but it’s still noise. We’re on the flight path for take offs and landings at Pearson International Airport. All of this adds up.
But here…our rental cottage is as quiet as can be, even in its village location. During the day, walking the footpaths and lanes, there is farm equipment, the sounds of livestock, a few cars. The major road is a couple of kilometers a away, and has less traffic than my commuter route from when I was working. We sleep deeply here, undisturbed by background noise that we didn’t even realize was affecting our sleep. The first sound I hear most mornings is the call of the pink-footed geese as they fly over the cottage, moving from The Wash to the fields where they feed.
Quiet is a luxury in our world, and one I suspect many people don’t know they don’t have. I didn’t…compared to many places, our Ontario home is quiet…it’s just not this quiet. I’ve experienced quiet before, camping in remote places, travelling through the highlands of Scotland, but I’ve never lived in it for an extended time since childhood. It’s been an added blessing in our winter escape. Along with flowers in January, wide skies, and skylarks singing.