The Quiet


But my singing is natural- WHY AREN'T YOU RELAXING?!!!

But my singing is natural- WHY AREN’T YOU RELAXING?!!!

I’ve been reading a book called “The Sound Book” which talks about phenomena of sounds from around the world- the world’s most resonant spaces, effects of different sounds on the psyche, etc.

In the current chapter, the author is discussing the topic of nature sounds such as birdsong and the sounds of chorusing insects like crickets and cicadas. There is an argument to be made that natural sounds relax us while non-natural sounds stress us out. As I was reading this chapter I found myself listening more carefully to the sounds- natural and non-natural- coming through my patio door which is just a few feet away from the kitchen table where I typically read.

Something that I noticed early on about Los Angeles, or, at least, the part of the greater Los Angeles area in which I live, is the pervasive quiet. This is a funny thing to say about a city as big and noisy as the city of angels, which only serves to make the quiet more noticeable. From where I am sitting right now I can hear a distant whirring of highway traffic, a slight drone of airline traffic (we live right below the approach route for LAX) and, if it is a weekend or after school hours, I can often hear the neighbor kids playing. Other than that it is quiet. No birdsong. No insects.

This isn’t true all the time: there is about an hour near sundown when the birds in the tree in the courtyard outside my door go absolutely BONKERS with the twittering. It’s as if they are only given the ability to tweet for a single hour every day and all of them decide to use that hour to blurt out every thought on their little bird brains. For a while we had a mockingbird living in one of the neighboring yards who would sing his repertoire of greatest hits for hours every night. And we get some crickets at night and usually there’s one big loud one right outside the door competing for our attention until we go to bed.

But even this is quiet compared to the summertime sounds I associate with Chicago and the Chicagoland area where I grew up. Summertime meant a constant daytime drone of annual cicadas nonstop from June to September. Nighttime was not only crickets but Katydids. Morning and evening twilight was the singing of the “peepers”- small frogs in the marshy areas near the river. Birds began singing before dawn and continued all day: robins, redwing blackbirds, chickadees, geese probably others that I would recognize but couldn’t name.

At my folks house there was a constant susurration of highway traffic from the raised lanes of I-94 and the tidal rumble of local traffic starting and stopping at the intersection near their house. Every hour or so there is a lonely call of the train whistles on the commuter line just a mile to the north.  And, of course, the loud snapping fart noise from of a constant stream of Harleys out for test rides from the dealership just a mile away. Don’t get me wrong- Harley makes very good motorcycles, but you just haven’t experienced noise pollution until you’ve lived “downstream” from a Harley dealership.

By comparison, my current apartment is  as tranquil as Walden Pond.

But for all the quietude of my current surroundings, I find myself missing a little bit of the sounds that I associate with “home”. According to the same book, it turns out that familiarity is a much greater factor in how one’s brain designates between “natural” and “non-natural” sounds than the actual source of the sounds themselves. A familiar sound is calming, even if it isn’t natural: the sound of a train whistle is more relaxing to me than the song of the mockingbird.  So as much as I am enjoying the quiet, the more I notice it the more I feel a longing for the sounds of home.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on August 30, 2014.

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