Silent Spring

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- Fields like the Lee-Davis High School baseball diamond are normally full of the sounds of spring competition, but because of the need to slow the spread of COVID-19, they are silent because of cancellations and postponements triggered by the pandemic.

In 1962, Rachel Carson fired what was arguably the first shot in the modern environmental movement with her book, “Silent Spring.” The book warned of a world in which nature falls silent because of our unwise use of pesticides.

From the first chapter of the book:

“There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example – where had they gone? … It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

We are now living our own version of a silent spring.

Spring is a season I look forward to, one in which the sounds of the crack of a bat, the thump of a ball in a catcher’s mitt, and the calls of umpires – inevitably greeted by the disapproving catcalls of a partisan crowd – renew my sense of connection with the human world around me.

Like the bubble in a theodolite’s level, those sounds ground and center my sense of community.

The sounds that renew a sense of life and community will differ for others. It may be the sound of a goalkeeper directing his defense. It may be the report of a starting pistol, the pop of a tennis ball hit by a racket, the whoosh of a golf ball sailing off a tee, the thumping of feet on the track, the clunk of a pole vaulter’s wand finding its home in the box, the thud of a shot or discus landing on the ground, or the roar of a car engine on a track.

No matter how disjointed some of us may feel by the silence of this spring, it may be something we all have to get used to. For athletes and sports fans alike, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19 – has greatly disrupted our lives.

The NCAA has cancelled its winter and spring sports championships. Those desirous of catching March Madness are restricted to watching reruns from past years on TV – and I have to say, while watching North Carolina State beat Houston on a last-second dunk in the 1983 championship game was still pretty exciting, I would have preferred to see if the Randolph-Macon men’s basketball team would have advanced beyond the Division III Sweet 16 this year.

Without spring championships to look forward to, there is not much point for any NCAA spring seasons. Some conferences, such as the ACC, have officially called it quits.

Professional sports have taken a hit. Those leagues that play in the winter, such as the NBA, WNBA and NHL, are in suspension. NASCAR’s season got started but is currently on hiatus. The spring races at Richmond Raceway are among a series that will be rescheduled – if possible.

Smaller tracks are affected. Virginia Motor Speedway in Saluda, Langley Speedway in Hampton and Southside Speedway in Chesterfield have postponed the start of their seasons.

Many summer sports, such as baseball, have delayed the start of their training camps. I look forward to hearing the order for pitchers and catchers to report. But, so far this year, they are having to worry about their personal space, not the 60 feet, 6 inches that separates the pitcher’s mound from home plate.

The Virginia High School League itself was in limbo. While it had postponed the opening of the spring season until March 30, many school systems – including Hanover County Public Schools – had decided to close through the end of their spring break, which for Hanover was April 12. There was no guarantee the closures would not be extended.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ended the uncertainty Monday. He ordered all schools in the state – public and private – closed through the end of the academic year.

For many people around the world, the sound of the bells of a church or temple, or a muezzin’s call to prayer, renews their sense of connection, of community. For many of us, it is the sound of some kind of sport. For me, it’s the sounds of baseball and softball.

But all is silent now, and the silence can be crushing. I hope – for all of us who miss those noises – that the silence doesn’t have to last for long.

Dave Lawrence can be reached at dlawrence@mechlocal.com.

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