First appeared in the June 2018 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
We are welcomed by a cacophony. It starts with just one small head poking above ground, but soon we’re surrounded. Their holes are spread out like craters on a moonscape, and as the prairie dogs pop up and then dive to safety, they call out, their chirps a tuneless chorus in the setting sun.
Normally, I’d be thrilled to encounter wildlife, but there’s just one problem – we drove the 350 kilometres from Regina looking for silence.
This is my first real vacation (that is, one that doesn’t involve responding to work e-mails) in more than a year. Desperate for a break, my partner Jules and I chose Grasslands National Park as the ideal place to switch to airplane mode. We’re on a quest for literal silence, too: As part of his PhD research, Jules is recording the resonance of natural spaces for a contemporary art and music project. It’s an absurd mission, no doubt, but the park is reportedly one of the quietest places in the world.
In the 1870s, a geologist described this area of southern Saskatchewan as forbidding and desolate. Some 150 years later, not much has changed. Only 12,000 tourists visit Grasslands annually, compared to Banff’s 3.9 million. Unlike Banff’s superlatives, the beauty here is in the subtleties – wind rippling through the grass and coulees carved out against an endless sky.
Finally, calm settles over the park. Jules sets up his microphone and I perch on a nearby rock. In the interest of true silence, I can’t move. When was the last time I did this? I wonder. I usually pass idle time looking at my phone. Instead, I watch the sun’s final sorbet glow melt into the horizon.
We’ve found serenity, but no silence: At the bottom of the coulee, a bison grunts. Off in the distance, coyotes howl. And on my rock, to-do lists buzz through my brain.