Can You Hear Me Now?

When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

~ Herman Hesse

It starts up sometime around 5:00 am, and continues through the morning. It’s most likely a robin — the shrill whistle/chirp that comes in sets of three or four, much louder than all the other bird chattering we get. If I’m lucky, neither the dog nor the younger cat is disturbed by the noise, but usually the sound makes them restless and the cat jumps onto our bed to sit on one of our chests and meow loudly. Stroking her helps temporarily, but often by then the dog is up and demanding that we get up and join the world.

I’ve also noticed that the traffic noise is more acute now. Also, our neighbors a couple of houses down the street seem to have really loud conversations around their patio fireplace that I find extremely annoying as the evening progresses towards midnight. Are there really more sirens, or is that just my new level of awareness? Does that diesel pickup down the street really rev up in the way-too early hours, or am I just being sensitive?

Of course, it’s warmed up now, so the windows are open more, and it’s early enough in the year that not all the trees have leafed out fully. A few years ago we lost the silver maple on the south side of our house and the apple tree that loomed over the north side — both probably 100 years old or so. The northwest pear tree and the green ash to the southwest are of the same vintage and also taller than the house. Smaller, newer trees surround the lot and fill the tree lawn past the sidewalk.

I contacted one of the myriad companies that offer “free” solar panels to see what solar power might do for our nearly 150-year old house. The representative was cautious, inquiring first if we’d be willing to remove or severely trim the trees on the west side. I tried for appropriately polite in my refusal …

I don’t think it was just the cooler weather that made the early spring quieter, though. Noise levels really dropped initially as people stayed at home and businesses shut down or reduced their access due to the coronavirus. I suppose the reduced levels of normal noise had made me extra conscious of those noises that seem to intrude.

On the other hand, as reported by John Letzing, “As the coronavirus kept more people indoors, many felt an important part of their lives had vanished: noise … For city dwellers around the world, social distancing and stay-at-home orders quelled the daily bustle that usually surrounds them — and amplified (sometimes unpleasantly ) the sounds of nature. As lockdowns ease, the return of noise will be comforting to many people, some studies even suggest a moderate amount of ambient noise enhances performance … A growing urban din may therefore bring a comforting return to normalcy.”

In the winter, with the windows closed, we can easily hear traffic on the highway about a mile away. But our town has lots of trees and, as reported by Mark Kinver, studies confirm that “Beside emphasizing the effects of vision and shade, urban greening should be considered as well to achieve noise reduction during propagation … Using plants as a potential ‘silencer’ of urban noise could combine environmental protection and landscape business.”

 We can clearly distinguish the difference in noise levels when the leaves are out. However, Letzing notes, “In fact, some studies suggest humans need noise. A moderate amount of ambient noise has been found to enhance performance when it comes to creative tasks, and loudness can sometimes be desirable.”

He may be right, but please don’t let my loud talking neighbors know …

Additional information:

Mark Kinver, Conifer Is Top Tree In Urban Sound Absorption Test, 4/3/20, BBC NewsJohn Letzing, COVID-19 Lockdowns Have Silenced Urban Noise. Now It’s Coming Back, 5/27/20, World Economic Forum

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