Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Noises off

I've been out of Maine for 10 days now (only 14 more to go) and the lack of good sounds is deafening. What we have in the city is noise, and that's deafening too, and it's been particularly so in our neighborhood lately. An old house behind us was sold when the owner died at nearly 100 (Trudy had lived there all her life) and in the modern way, it's being mansionized, at least doubling in size. Even though the house is across the aqueduct and a couple of hundred yards away, the noise of construction is loud, rattling and booming from 7:00 to dark. Tree-trimming also seems part of the new housing gestalt, along with instant lawns -the two must go together in the cabal of contractors - and we suffered chain-saw mania for a couple of days. Trudy also owned a vacant lot behind her house, which of course has been sold; yet another noisesome mansion rises. Our neighbors in front put in a new driveway - this took days of trucks. Neighbors to the right are just completing a new roof and gutters. And of course leaf-blowing season is in full, gas-guzzling, ear-splitting swing. Today I counted four blowers belching simultaneously, possibly a new record, in the yard of the painted lady Victorian on Lincoln St.

I'm not saying Maine has no noise. Some summer days we get planes and trucks and boats and lawn mowers and chain saws, maybe even all at the same time. But we also have sounds, lovely sounds. Henry Beston in The Outermost House wrote that “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.” (I'd add, having spent childhood summers in northern Michigan, that the sound of a cold trout stream rushing over rocks is pretty wonderful as well.) In the city all these sounds are muted, or drowned, or forgotten. If we do have them, or stop to hear them, they ring off a myriad impervious surfaces and become mud in the ear.

I won't elaborate on Maine's other sounds: the tweets and hoots and caws of birds, the chorus of peepers in the spring, the thunk and thwack of an axe splitting birch, a foghorn in the distance, the crack of a tree shifting in winter, or even the sound of nothing at all on a cold, clear, star-bright night. But you can be sure they'll be in the uppermost, the most forward, the sanest part of my mind for the next 14 days.

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