Publishers Weekly reported on Nov. 20 its choice for Book of the Week that turned out to be refreshingly out of the ordinary: a series of meditations on what may fairly be called the hobgoblin of modern life – din. The author, Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, contemplated the clamoring world in a 160-page musing titled “Silence: In the Age of Noise.”

To the ends of the earth

Kagge has a stand-alone credential for talking about silence. He crossed Antarctica alone. And the way he saw it, the quiet he experienced is essential for everyone. Granting that few of us would want to hang out at the North Pole, he recommends that we simply stop what we’re doing, disconnect from the electronic universe that drives us and listen to ourselves think.

Stop, look and listen. What a concept! (In the interest of transparency, noise is my all-time pet peeve).

Noise is about more than sound

Of course, Kagge isn’t the first person to notice the fracas that is contemporary life. I’m thinking of artists like photographer Clyde Butcher, known as the Ansel Adams of Florida. Like Adams’ views of the West, Butcher’s imagery is the picture of stillness – the Great Outdoors in the sunshine state but without its colors, without even a sign of wind. If you want to see land beyond color, check out Butcher’s black and white descriptions. Short of even a tint, they demonstrate that noise isn’t only the distraction. Colors, especially the high-intensity variety can be as loud as an ambulance siren.

Tourism without the tourists

Did I mention that there are no people in Butcher’s photographs? Besides the distraction of color, there are images in constant motion emitted from our TV’s, laptops, smart phones that can engulf, overload and fray us. Part of the relief that Butcher’s work provides, is the sight of unoccupied space of wetlands, grasslands and shorelines.

Finding visual silence on a crowded planet is a relief that refreshes. What you get, then, is an air of the primeval in a life that otherwise never stands still. His images are like vacations for the eyes. According to psychologists, we need the rest. Saul Levine, M.D. writes in Psychology Today, “We are beset by noise stemming from outside (news, media) and inside (distress).

And as psychologist Steven Nguyen makes clear, even “information becomes noise.”

All quiet on the western front

The purity of Butcher’s scenery, which comes from that mix of colorlessness and stillness, invite us to slow down and get off the bus, so to say, to get acquainted with oneself. Butcher sees the wilderness as “a spiritual necessity.” However it is for you, his views of Florida’s hinterlands, like those of Adams’ haunting photographs of the mountain corridors of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada range, is the picture of “Silence: In the Age of Noise.”

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