Everyone knows the feeling: discomfort, annoyance, rage, an entire range of emotions provoked by other people when one might wish to have total solitude, or at least relative peace and quiet. Welcome to the modern museum experience.

What do we want when confronting great art? Books are easy, ready companions, and it’s always possible to block out other distractions by resorting to noise-reducing devices that insulate us with auditory privacy. With film, live music and especially theater, the audience and its collective responses contribute to the greater pleasure of attending, even though there are plenty of times when one wants to smack the people sitting behind, talking as though they are in their living room; or the woman with dangling jewelry and poisonous perfume in the next seat. Rock concerts are based on mass participation; classical ones, formerly the closest thing to silent… More…

Unlike Thoreau, I could not be removed from the ruckus of civilization. No, I could escape for an hour or two at the most, taking advantage of an unexpected return of warm weather to spend some time in a tidal salt marsh. I write this to return to a place where the most regular sounds are the rustle and whisper of the dry reeds and grasses in the late afternoon breeze.

 

And then birds. Circling, the gulls cry. In this slant of light their white sides glow golden before they plunge out of sight to settle in a hidden channel of water flowing through the high grass of the meadows. Unseen, a sparrow chips at the afternoon.  A loud croak announces the presence of a nearby great blue heron, disturbed. Snow geese will winter here and add their… More…