I slept last night with the windows wide open, not because it was particularly hot, but because for the first time in a while it was deadly silent. Not a breath of wind, no animals baying or baa-ing or moo-ing or barking, no children dispatching animated aliens in the den, no haymaking or direct-drilling machinery in the neighbouring paddocks, no wife listening to late-night radio and fretting about today’s lessons. No, all those things were in abeyance, so I took myself off to the big-windowed guest room, threw open the double-hungs, wrapped up warm and listened. To nothing.
Everyone imagines, of course, that it’s quiet in the country. It’s not. The country is actually a workplace, with the workers using the tools of industry to produce their goods. Around here we’ve got the lot – sheep, beef, dairy, cropping, olives, wine … Separate lambs from their mothers, there’s a helluva din. Put a hundred young bulls in a paddock – bedlam. Graze the milkers a bit hard and they start protesting. When the birds are feeding, the gas guns boom. And if a frost is looming there’s no respite from the helicopters or wind machines.
All this noise has been known get on an ex-townie’s wick – but not mine. I enjoy the coming and going of tractors next door, the stock truck rumbling down the road, the plovers screeching as they dive-bomb the magpies. Because I know that here, unlike in the city, there are nights – and sometimes days – that you can hear a farm gate being closed 2kms away. And dawns, like this morning’s, that are filled only with the sound of song from the native birds, slowly returning to the neighbourhood as we all plant a few more trees.
It’s been home for nearly ten years now, but that sound of silence out here in the Wairarapa hinterland is still a luxury worth all the inconveniences of a rural lifestyle.