Silent Spring is not my reference. Yes, the English language makes a clear difference between “noiseless” and “less noise,” but how should we define the noun? I do not regard birdcalls, wind in trees, nor even the shouts of children as noise. Leaf blowers, chain saws, automobiles, heavy construction, and low jet airplanes, on the other hand, are obnoxious intruders on the symphony of natural sounds. This pandemic April has been a time mercifully free of human engine roars.
The sound of silence around here has until recently been missing. All hours, every season, mechanical clamor is relentless from near and far, above and below, around and about. But this month, enforced shutdowns have eliminated a lot of trucks and cars and planes and local projects. I could sit outside and hear trees in the breeze, the taps of woodpeckers, the warning calls of bluejays. Even occasionally the rustle of leaves as squirrels race through the underbrush and up branches. Sometimes the buzz of fat early bumblebees drifted by.
Like Boccaccio’s Florence, much of affluent Huntington has fled to less infested places. Traffic is abnormally sparse. Many neighbors have gone South or West to visit friends or linger in vacation homes. The less affluent remain behind, but they have temporarily been prevented from their normal loud activities (because the rich are not around to make them do so.) There is often a surprising lack of pedestrians on our local streets, because the gloomy cold weather has also damped excursions.
In the last few days, however, demon-spawned yard crews have begun to erupt once more, with their insanely oversized infernal gas engines spewing smoke and commotion. So far those episodes remain sparse and nearly tolerable, but it is a worrisome reminder of what must soon return. All the more reason for me to savor quiet while it remains available.
Maybe, eventually, people will rethink the demands of civilization. Up until this plague, there were only two ways to deal with noise pollution. One was to huddle hermetically behind triple-pane never-opened glass and hide inside in peace and comfort. The other was to outcompete the cacophony by blasting nearby noise of one’s own choice _ through earbuds or boomboxes or outside speakers. I wonder if after this interlude, some folks may not come to enjoy natural silence. But I suppose probably not. Noise, like most pollution, spills into common space; one lout spoils the environment for everyone within miles.
For nearly the first time, crews are forbidden on Sunday. Many people sleep in. I had a wonderful walk through the nearby park, admiring the cherry blossoms, young leaves, and green lawn. Red winged blackbirds have returned to the pond, to begin nesting amongst the reeds, not yet attacking anything that comes too near. A blissful natural calm, reminding me of my youth in less crowded and far less raucous places.
Like everyone else, I ponder what comes next, what changes may occur. Maybe the whole world will return to what it used to be, increasing noise and all. If that be the case, I must treasure these noiseless moments never to return, as if I were on vacation from modern civilization. I must open my door and visit the paradise that has so briefly interrupted everyone’s frenetic brass bands.