In my office, the heating system sounds like a plane revving up for takeoff. It is not loud, but it keeps me in a constant state of anticipation. I am alert for the message saying it’s time to board, and I don’t know whether that makes me work harder or simply adds to the stress of the day.
At home, the refrigerator has a very loud voice. It not only hums in a most irritating way, if you leave the door open too long, it complains with a chirping sound. The clothes washer and dryer, which Glenn keep in constant action, sing an altogether different tune, competing with the furnace which cuts in and out in a roundelay of mechanical song.
The downstairs television goes 24/7; it’s a Dobbie thing. I say nothing. Clocks tick, computers hum along with the other machines, the house creaks and groans with the weather. Outside, the distant highway sends off regular rounds of thunder as mighty trucks pass — occasionally punctuated by a crash. You can’t really hear the highway inside with the doors and windows closed, but the odd siren pierces the air. On a still summer night, with the windows open at 2:00 in the morning, you can hear the whistle of the train and the rumbling of its wheels on the metal tracks four miles away.
On a quiet Sunday morning, after the dawn chorus of wakening birds, you can hear the incessant whirr of the neighbour’s built-in vacuum system as she cleans up the masses of dog hair that her two big dogs must deposit every day. We used to hear the sweet sound of her daughter’s voice as she practised her singing.
The pool filter motor goes on next and then someone starts up a lawn mower.
In winter those sounds go away to be replaced by snow blowers and the sound of engines running as cars warm up. After a snow fall, you can hear the cheery sound of shovels scraping against concrete.
When the neighbour’s son on the other side of our house is home alone, he cranks up the sound so loud that it reverberates against my home office wall; I can feel the pulse of the beat and the thrumming of the base.
There is always a hum or a whirr going on in the house even when everything with a volume control is turned off. At night, I sleep with a sleep apnea mask. The sound of the machine is faint — the sound of the air internalized, but there is sound all around. The heater cuts in and out. The incessant television downstairs adds a low rumble, the computer across the hall sends out the occasional ping as the spammers do their midnight chores.
It is never quiet.
Sometimes I long for the deep peace of the countryside, where the quiet is disturbed only by the wind rustling through leaves or by small animals and insects foraging for food. You can hear bees buzzing in this air, the fluttering of bird wings, the early morning dew dripping and releasing leaves of their burden.
In this silence, the sun’s rays travel through space and warm your arms and throat with the quality of sound. At night, the crystal midnight air reveals billions of stars humming overhead.
How beautiful, the absence of mechanical sound. It allows you to hear the throb of the earth and the sound of your heart pumping blood thorugh your veins.
In the city in winter, if you rise at four, you might catch a slice of this silence between the hum of the street lights and the distance sounds of ever present traffic. The cold helps and the snow muffles the city noise, but it’s always there, competing with the creak of the trees in the frost, with the scurrying mice feet in the pukak, the patter of the daring squirrel out of his nest to gather a hurried meal in the freezing air.
I think I shall rise at four tomorrow to listen to the sound of silence.