Thursday, May 1, 2014

The peace of quiet




I'm on holidays at the moment.  Peter is working so I have some time to myself.  So today, in a rare moment of autumn sunshine I visited Melbourne Zoo.  I'm a Friend of the Zoo but haven't been as often as I would have liked to in recent years.  So today felt like such a treat.

Many people have issues with Zoos, but I see them as the Arks for the future.  People can't be trusted to look after animals in their native habitats, so it's lucky we have these repositories.  Melbourne Zoo are also massive promoters and educators of environmental and conservation issues.  All that aside, it really is a lovely place to stroll through.

But as I wandered around, I realised how loud people are.  Not just kids, but the adults too.  Screaming, yelling, banging.  People walk and talk, chase their kids, talk about their life and don't really give anything a second thought.  They look at the animals without really seeing them.  What do I mean?  Have you ever been lucky enough to get up close to something and look it in the eye?  Did it look back at you?  Was there any connection, or intrigue on both sides?

I didn't grow up in the generation that thought kids should be seen and not heard.  But my parents did.  Partially because Dad worked shift work and would be asleep during the day, we were taught to be quiet children.  My parents took us bush walking through Bright and the Grampians and we were always shushed.  We learnt that if you're noisy you'll scare everything away.  Sitting quietly in the moment is something that has stayed with me.  Especially when I'm somewhere that birds or animals might be.  It always feels like a privilege to watch a bird go about its day nearby.  Fossiking, trilling, just doing what it would do if I wasn't there.

After visiting the meerkats, I stumbled across somewhere that looked like it was off limits.  But there was no sign.  I pushed the gate, walked through bushy plantings to find long tussocks of grass.  Large rusted metal sculptures surrounded me.  But I was not alone.  Crouching down I watched a small quokka come slowly towards me, then hop closer to another furry face under the grass in the sunshine.  I looked at them and they looked at me.  We were alone, it was quiet and sheer beautiful bliss.

I was then aware for the rest of the day how little I actually needed to talk.  Apart from ordering a coffee (essential!) I spent my time really looking at everything and being silent.  In the flight aviary kids ran past me, and adults didn't seem to care about the birds.  I stopped and saw a Satin Bowerbird pick up a seedpod.  It puffed up it's chest and danced impressively.  Moments later the female arrived.  She sang back at him and they hopped around each other excitedly.  Again, I witnessed something special I'd never seen before, while others rushed past.

I heard a mother tell her child not to waste time taking photos of whatever she was looking at.  'Just save it for the important things' she said.  I wondered what constituted important.  Big, impressive things like Elephants?  Who knows.  But I think noticing the small things is a gift.  Learning to listen rather than talk is a life skill.  Being happy in the silence and quiet within yourself is an important way to recharge your brain.  Especially when you have a job that involves communicating as much as mine does.  Peace and quiet should not be undervalued.

As I sat on the edge of the Japanese garden lake drinking my coffee, two large white swans swam up to me.  Slowly a long elegant neck reached forward and its bill inspected my boots and the bottom of my jeans.  I sat beaming at this unlikely encounter.  The swan made a gentle honking noise as it exhaled and continued to search for a snack within the cuffs of my pants.  I continued to sit still, and laughed inside.  Happy.  Quiet.  Peaceful. Recharged.