A half hour train ride, to the end of the suburban RER line, then ten minutes walk along a disused railway track and we were into the woods. There are quiet places in the city but the quality of silence is different here. The quiet of broadleaved woodland in spring is, in fact, anything but silent. Leaves rustle in the gentlest breeze, dry twigs crack underfoot, faint birdsong ripples in distant treetops while sudden trills and staccato calls erupt near at hand.
When the footpath leaves the sheltering woodland and leads across open fields the quality of silence changes again. Wind rippling a field of barley is seen as much as heard. An occasional car or motorbike crosses the plaine on a narrow country lane, leaving deeper silence behind it. Like the woodland, these quiet fields aren’t really silent. There’s a sudden burst of birdsong as a skylark starts up from a hidden nest. Let your ear follow the sound winding up into the sky and you realise that there are larks all around, their songs interweaving and mingling, fading and returning.
The larks in these photos are just indistinct specks in the sky. If you’ve ever listened to skylarks you’ll be able to add the song from memory. If not, you can hear a recording on the RSPB website here. It’s a clear recording, the fact of the matter, but not the sense of listening to larks singing in an open sky. For that you need music, so here’s a BBC recording of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, in the original version for violin and piano. You may find the introduction off-putting but don’t give up too soon!