Tuesday, September 23, 2008

EcoBliss: No More Noise

A visitor on our garage door.
Has anyone else noticed an unusual
number of grasshoppers this year?

Listening to: What I had in my head when I named this post.

Bliss: Mid-70's and sunny for days and it is forecast to continue for many more...heaven. Eating kiwis off our front vines. Mini, hardy kiwis and they are amazing. Waiting, waiting, waiting for that one little apple to ripen. Dreaming of local apple cider any time now.

At the age of six, I somehow got an excruciatingly painful ear infection. It got worse than it had to, because I was afraid to tell my parents that I was sick. I had already learned, in my house of (at the time) two nurses, that sickness was weakness and was not tolerated. So I kept it to myself that my ear was exploding with pain and then dripping growing amounts of liquid.

Eventually, it was apparent to anyone who looked at me that there was something horribly wrong, and I was taken to the hospital where a doctor informed my parents that one more day of that and I would have been deaf.

I am not deaf. Alas, there are days when I do not think that would be a completely bad thing.
There are days when I feel I might drown in all the leaf blowers and screaming children; there are days when car alarms and motorcycles feel like ice picks on my brain.

Then I remember music. Sweet music. Kitten voices. My partner's voice. The sound of a quiet, bird filled morning. The lake lapping. An espresso cup clinking on the saucer. A tennis ball hitting the sweet spot on a racket. The cicadas in late summer. The crunch of snow. Real, not recorded, church bells.

And I am grateful that I got to a doctor in time; I am grateful that somehow out of all that sickness, I ended up with superhero hearing. Do not speak a whisper anywhere near me unless you want me to hear it.

Yes, I am grateful, but oh how I wish for more quiet, more serenity in my soundscape.

A memory from my childhood that sparkles (and these are rare): We went to Maine for a vacation and ended up at a friend's cottage for a couple of days on a small lake that did not allow any motor boats of any kind. There are many lakes like this in Maine, and I dream of living on one (though I also dream of living in Paris, so go figure). I dream of waking to silence and falling asleep to crickets. I dream of swimming in water that is not churned by motors and coming up for air not to hear or smell those same motors. I dream of the loudest noise being my own splashing or the sound of an oar skimming across the top of the lake.

I daydream of Mackinac island where no cars are allowed. I dream of downtown Freiburg, Germany -- also a car free zone (and where my ancestors came from). Imagine that places still exist on this planet where the primary means of transportation involve sounds like feet hitting pavement and bike bells singing no more offensively than birds or perhaps the clunk of tiny wheels on the bottoms of baskets filled with the day's purchases as people pull them over sidewalk cracks. Instead of horns and mufflers and stereos and revving, you could hear laughter and the sounds of people interacting directly with other people.

Alas, the reality of our modern lives (or what we assume they have to be) makes my ears ache just thinking about it. I sit in a library two days a week to work, and even there, a sanctuary of silence in the past, the noise level is typically more like that of a shopping mall. People assume they can be, should be as loud as they want wherever they want. People assume, I guess, that everything about them is worthy of other people's attention -- why else do they have personal conversations at full volume in public, whether the other person is there or on the other end of the phone?

Sitting at my desk, I play music. Quietly. But I can barely hear it above the din that my computer tower is always making. Always. When I turn it off at night, it leaves a vacuum of silence. (A side note: at home, we only have Apple computers, which do not hum or grind or make any sort of noise whatsoever. Another reason to love Apple.)

I play music at home, too, of course. And there are times when I play it quite loud. There is something in human physiology that adores well ordered sound -- i.e. not noise. But I walk outside and make sure you can not hear it from the sidewalk. I do not want to add to the general, perpetual din. My taste is not yours.

Din. Modern life is comprised of din. Televisions. Radios. Phones. Computers. Video games. Cars. Trains. Trucks. Motorcycles. Planes. Lawn Mowers. Leaf blowers. Hedge trimmers. Edge trimmers. Hair trimmers. Vacuums. Air conditioners hanging out multiple windows. Fans. Light bulbs that use less electricity but hum. Electric can openers. Electric mixers. Electric tooth brushes. Anything you can put a motor on and more...

Does anyone use a broom or a pair of clippers any more?

Not only are we wasteful with resources, not only do we pollute to create more and more electricity, but we are creating forever daylight and forever noise.

No wonder so many of us are angry and confused and tired. We are, twenty four seven, assaulting ourselves.

In cities, birds have been proven to be increasing the volume of their songs. Birds need to be heard by other birds to establish territory, to mate. Crows meet every night and talk about where they found good food that day and where they are all going to sleep that night. (That's not a joke; crows are super, super smart birds.) What will happen if the girl Cardinal can't hear the boy's song? And this is just birds, what is the noise doing to other wild life?

What is the noise doing to us?

People exposed to extreme noise, of course, are losing their hearing. But it seems to me that I know more and more people who suffer from hearing loss and they didn't work in big factories or go to huge concerts.

How many of our headaches are caused by noise?

How much poor sleep is caused by noise over night? Even if noise does not wake you, according to recent studies, it still triggers stress responses while you sleep. You are sleeping and your body is filling with adrenaline.

But now you can just buy a white noise machine to cover up all the other noise -- much of which is likely coming from our own home. What the!?!

We know for a fact that people who do not sleep well over a long period of time develop depression and even more severe forms of mental illness.

So now you can get stressed while you rest. And if you're awake, you also experience the stress response in your body even if the noise is not making you feel outright angry. Stress then raises your blood pressure and decreases your immunity.

Low frequency noise can cause nausea and heart palpitations.

I wonder, in generations to come, how much they will tie noise to all sorts of disease?

For now, it seems to me that we all need to work on our library voices.

For more information, go here, here, and here.

(This post brought to you by PissedChick.)


Lisa said...

Oh I am someone who hears every little thing and has a low tolerance for noise. It feels good to read this and know it's not just me.
And yes, we use brooms, clippers and a push mower.
I often wonder what all this noise does to the birds and wild animals around us. When I hike in the woods I often hear power tools these days. Sad.

bojosmom said...

You said it- Amen! I, too, use clippers and a rake and a broom and cherish the silence when it happens. Thanks for yet another wonderful post!

lifeisblogger said...

I laughed out loud when I clicked on your post today, because the same face that greeted me in the park the day before yesterday was there again....that grasshopper and on the walk coming home from work....so yes! I have noticed the increase!!

I use to work across the hall from the computer office at work...I'll never forget the very first day that they left before I did. When they shut their office doors, the silence was deafening.....I had no idea that I was exposed to all of that noise, until it was gone!

treehousejukebox said...

You brought up a special topic to me: Brooms! I think there is great symbolism in using a broom in this time and place. I feel sad when I see people using leaf blowers to blow cut grass off paved surfaces. Polluting the air and creating deafening noise all at once - for no reason except the perception of getting something done quicker. I have watched people do this so many times and really wonder - is it truly quicker than using that nearly silent artifact, the broom? Of course, quicker does not necessarily equal better anyway.

I have one other thing to say in my rambling response to your fascinating post.

My dad lives in the woods and when I spend time there, especially in the evening, my ears RING because it is so much quieter.

Val said...

Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you!

Sarah Hough said...

The noise we hear out in the world is proportionate to the ammount of noise in our mind, and nature is speaking the same language, too; violently. Great post.

nollyposh said...

ahhh yes what we all long for these days...
~sweet bliss~
i wake to birds and fall asleep to the call of frogs
i am of course lucky
but i also chose this lifestyle that i lead
i don't drive
i walk
i don't answer the phone
just because it makes
...a noise
i turn the tv off
and listen to music
i sit in my own quiet
where there is a peace and quiet
like no other
my children do too
it's an art
no one remembers to teach the young anymore
whenever i sit and contemplate an ant
i remember long days in my youth of quiet contemplation

nollyposh said...

(ps)'the grasshopper' thing:
When grasshopper appears, one can expect to be pushed outside one's comfort zone into areas of greater success...in business though keep partners to a minimum...Assosiated with the powers of lightening in Aboriginal mythology, Grasshopper dreaming promotes success & the lightening-speed forward movement into successful ventures. If you are harboring new ideas, watch for Grasshopper's blessings.
from "Animal Dreaming"-Scott Alexander King

ecoyogi said...

I lived on a wooded urban island for 7 years in the middle of the Mississippi River that everyone who visited commented was "so quiet," because it seemed like a small town in the middle of the city. There weren't many cars driving around its 3 mile circumference. But the din of the city's white noise was constant and oppressive: distant freeway hum, high frequency power lines, trains, planes, downtown's multitude of power sources. Finally, I left and moved into a more citified neighborhood and I love just hearing plain old cars driving by and kids shouting and rap music blaring. It's refreshing.

You mention Mackinac Island, where my family used to visit when I was a kid in the 60s. We loved the no cars thing! Have you been to Monhegan Island in Maine? It's full of artsy people and there are no cars--you'd love it! People also build fairy houses in the woods and the waves crash onto the shore. Also, at sunset people gather on benches outside the former schoolhouse and in near silence watch the sunset together. Truly holy communion! And at night it's completely pitch black--being out in the ocean. I've never seen so many stars!

blisschick said...

Sarah, I totally agree that much of how we perceive "noise" is in the mind. I work very had, for instance, to allow the dog barking sound to just BE the dark barking sound. Yet, I think we have to keep the actual (and real) physiological stuff in mind; there are changes (and not good) that happen in the body whether we want them to or not. Nollyposh, thanks for the grasshopper info -- and what a lovely life you lead. We also don't have a car but we live in a city, so... EcoYogi, thanks for the info about the island off of Maine! I already sent a link to my partner at her job so she could salivate over it. :)

nadinefawell said...

Oh, amen!

Perpetual noise drives me NUTS. And, oddly enough, most other people don't seem to be particularly put out by it...
I prefer to sweep than vacuum my home for just this reason.