Coronavirus diaries: It’s so quiet

The clean water of the Willamette River reflects the clear blue, clean skies that are one of the effects of the coronavirus shutdown.

Have you noticed the quiet? I certainly have. Every morning, as the pale-peach tinge of dawn displaces the slate-blue night lying between dark silhouetted tree tops, I lie in bed and listen to birds calling. There are so many of them, and their calls are so varied, each distinct from the next.

I can’t remember many places with such bird-filled dawns. Papershali, Uttarakhand, where we lived too far from the road to hear any traffic. Vancouver Island, just a few minutes’ walk from the shoreline of Haro Strait. The Olympic National Forest, the summer my sister and I went backpacking together. There may be other places I’m not remembering just now, but one thing I do know: It’s rare to wake up to the complete absence of sound from cars, trucks or trains.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed the quieter world that the coronavirus plague has brought us. Scientists are experiencing it too: The sharp reduction of noise from vehicles, factories and other human activity is letting seismologists detect small earthquakes and make finer measurements of earth’s seismic activity.

The air is clearer and purer, too. In northern India, people can see the Himalayas better than they have in decades. Here in Portland, I can’t recall ever seeing such sharp bright crystalline light. Every leaf on every tree is picked out in highlights and shadows. Colors are clear and bright as oil paints squeezed fresh from their metal tubes. And the scents! Walking through the neighborhoods and parks, soft breezes bring whiffs of sweet lemony daphne, sharp rosemary and rich mulchy earth.

I’m grateful for this aspect of the coronavirus shutdown. With offices, stadiums, restaurants and manufacturing plants closed, and huge reductions in commercial shipping, there’s so much less traffic on the roads, and hardly any industrial pollution. Cleaner air and less noise are making me – and other people – happier and healthier.

Westmoreland Park, and the clean clear sky arching over it. Coronavirus means clear skies.
Westmoreland Park

But alongside this pleasure is knowing what it costs. People are out of work; too many are scared and worried about how to support their families. Food banks open their doors every morning to long lines. In many parts of the world where we’ve stayed over the past couple of years, it’s even worse. These are places where losing even a single day’s work means your family won’t eat. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the suffering and death that the coronavirus sickness itself has brought to so many people.

Is this what it takes to restore the earth? Is there no other way to have clean air, clean water and less noise?  Can’t we find ways to heal our planet ourselves, instead of waiting for a pandemic that causes so much human suffering?

I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I hope others do.

Tender leaves in the quietest spring Portland has experienced in modern times.

6 thoughts on “Coronavirus diaries: It’s so quiet

  1. thomas Sawyer April 16, 2020 / 3:55 pm

    While we were still in Cairo we noticed the air pollution was down markedly. So much so that we could see the pyramids at Dashur and Sakkara easily from our apartment. It was not a rare occurrence in pre-covid times but was now a daily sighting. The overall sky was bluer too. Due to the 7:00 pm curfew the night time silence was very welcome. We have no doubts that Egypt will return to “normal” someday but it was wonderful while it lasted.


  2. Aliza April 16, 2020 / 10:12 pm

    I know. The quiet and lack of pollution (or reduction, anyway) are part of the New Normal that I wish would continue.


  3. Francesca Hampton April 17, 2020 / 7:11 pm

    Exquisite writing – and thoughts on what is happening that I share. May we all learn from this astonishing turn of events. By the way, I just sent a link to you blog to some students whom I am challenging to start their own first blogs. It is a wonderful model.


    • Aliza April 17, 2020 / 9:21 pm

      Oh wow — thank you, Francesca! As you know, I am a great admirer of your writing, so your praise makes me feel wonderful. I do hope your students feel confident to start their own blogs — it’s a wonderful platform for writing and thinking about your readers. You might mention to your students that being a little more regular about publishing than I am is a good thing 😉 Anyway, thank you for reading, and for commenting.


  4. Agnes Franklin May 16, 2020 / 9:57 am

    Lovely writing do we have to go back to rush hours and everything that conjures up?


    • Aliza May 16, 2020 / 5:08 pm

      Hi Agnes,
      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I am sure we’ll go back to traffic jams and pollution, but wouldn’t it be great if people realized they don’t have to drive so much?


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