Saturday, August 23, 2014

Loud is the new silent

Noise is with us wherever we are. 

There’s no avoiding it. As a presence it travels with us and is there before we arrive.

Stop for gas and you almost don’t want to get out to pump it. 

Music at gas stations is often very loud. It blasts you as you fill your tank. 

Conversations at restaurants must compete with the music being played. Words get swallowed up by the impossible decibel levels allowed by some restaurants. 

We and other couples we know have walked out of restaurants because they’re too loud. 

We don’t elect to spend our dinners shouting at our servers to be heard. From experience (trust me on this) the noise prevents any actual visiting from taking place.

A number of us are scratching our heads at indoor malls. We wonder if we wandered into a disco by accident. 

The hard-hitting volume to the music reaches the farthest corridors. The high decibels might work in a nightclub. It seems overdone for the shopper crowd.  

Don’t get me (or a bunch of us) started on the hand dryers installed in many public restrooms and at Interstate rest stops.

Multiple hand dryers with several in use at once are like an echo chamber of horrors. 

They're so hurtfully loud that tots have been seen to cry when they come on. It startles them. Sensitive ears among them are particularly shaken. 

It doesn’t seem right that little kids, still somewhat protected from the assault of noise, should have to stand under these loud dryers every time they use a public washroom.

Leaf blowers are the bane of residential areas. Their disquieting din drills into the neighborhood quiet. 

They grind away, from one yard to the next, blowing a few leaves off the driveways. Their stink and unwelcome volume of noise drifts through opened windows.

On our table the meal may be on but when leaf blowers are whining nearby it strikes me that what we're being served is polluted air.

It makes me wonder if anyone brooms away leaves anymore. A broom is exercise, is low cost (and low maintenance), gets the same results as a leaf blower and doesn’t foul the air or break your eardrums. 

If you can’t use a broom for leaf removal from your sidewalk or driveway will someone please invent a silencer for residential leaf blowers. I plead!   

Constant extraneous noise, whether from music or equipment used every day, can't be good thing. 

This certainly is true in regard to our young. With a lifetime of hearing ahead of them, universal loud noise is doing some of its greatest harm to this generation.

Young people work and study to loud noise for hours at a time. They listen to it at decibels that make my ears ache. 

Many teens are accustomed to music being loud. They’re talking as loud as their grandparents to compensate. 

They sound like my grandpa who had to ask us to repeat what we said. He was deaf at an early age (not from loud music). It isn't fun to lose you hearing he'd tell them.

My generation took it on the ears too. We had our rock concerts. We were not without our own addiction to loud music.

We’re paying the price years later in wholesale hearing loss. But our ears took breaks in between. It wasn’t a continuous thing except for the rock stars.

Those in positions that decide the decibel in places we shop, eat out and go to relax can’t be unaware of the "too loud too long" effect on humans. 

Loud steady noise impacts employees and the rest of us. What it may do in the long term we can only imagine now.

Reduced exposure to noise, and a responsible decision on the part of businesses to sensibly monitor decibels where people congregate, are sound steps towards protecting our hearing as individuals and as a society.

Each of us must decide how willing we are to put our hearing on the line. 

Some of us are pushing back against excessive decibels. Our method is simple and works. We measure decibels onsite with a smartphone app.

When we think a place is too loud, and the noise potentially injurious to the health of our ears, we employ the app. It has helped us decide a few times whether we stay or move on.

It seems fair that businesses which interface with the public advise us up front about the decibel levels they keep. 

Decibel information can be posted on their front doors. It’d be like the signs that ban guns on the premises or the No Smoking notices we see everywhere.

This information would also be handy on web sites. We can check to see if (besides Tuesday specials and weekend hours) we want to go at all. The music (as posted by decibels) may be too loud for our tastes.

Loud has worked its way into almost everything. It’s taken for granted. It’s maybe time to see how some of this can change. It’s time to reflect on how sound has grown.

We’ve come a long way from the sound experience of my generation. If you were country raised or from a small town (both boxes checked for me) this applies all the more.

When I grew up, as a summer country resident, and in town from September through May, sounds were in the background more than they are now.

The wail of fire trucks, ambulances or police cars was pretty much absent. I wasn't able to differentiate one siren from another when we did hear them. All caught our attention as sirens are meant to do.

Our town did have a couple means of keeping the community informed through the use of public sirens. 

There was a noon whistle (whistle, not siren, as I recall) and a 9:30 pm curfew siren. The noonday whistle meant lunchtime. Curfew at night called kids still outside in from the dark.

When it comes to remembering sounds I wonder if it’s possible we’re not as emotionally attached to childhood sounds as to associations that come with other of our senses.

Cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven, for instance, remind us of the good aromas from the kitchens of our youth. It takes just one whiff to be transported back to five and eight and ten years of age.

Specific smells evoke the past. They can make us nostalgic. Smell, an agent of connection, makes us appreciate its influence on us. Smell taps something deep inside. Smell has a raft of associations.

Sounds heard as we grow up are perhaps stored on a memory disc apart from the rest. Or maybe sounds are so integral to the events that it takes some work to find them and sort them out.

Outdoor sounds, not indoor sounds, are what I remember. Except for school, and winter’s indoor hours, outdoors is where we spent our time.

It’s great exercise to meditate on sounds remembered from long ago. The sounds we wind up recalling can be as healing and connecting as smell associations or old photos we look at that put us back into the scene.

The process of recalling sounds started out slow when I tried it. One or two remembered sounds floated upward easily. They in turn delivered others. 

It’s as if each nudges the one next to it and says Hey, you’re part of this too.

The haunting cry of loons is at the top of remembered sounds. Elusive and shy of humans as they were then, we were proud that we had a family of loons (the Minnesota state bird) nesting on our lake.

Birds and waterfowl, gathering in flocks in the late summer, and treating our area as a layover on their seasonal migration, come to mind.

I can hear the twitters among the birds, heavy by count on the telephone lines by the river, with its morning fog as the days cooled, and the sharper calls of migratory Canadian geese.

Frogs croaking in the spring, the lazy drone of honeybees in our garden and the chorus of cicadas in the backyard add to the repertoire of sounds.

Summer rain created a range of sounds. There were the gentle ploop-ploop sounds of raindrops on water if it began to sprinkle when we swam or were in the boat. 

Summer rains were sometimes not much more than medium drizzle and if we got caught out in it we didn't mind getting a bit wet. 

There was the tattoo of steady rain on the porch roof and the barrage of rain against the window panes in the fury of a thunderstorm.

The sizzle of summertime rain on superheated highway is especially recalled. A tarry smell arose in vapors of steam from the hot wet asphalt. This smell was a distinctive smell of summer then.

These were our barefoot days. Our feet knew intimately the burning heat of sun-baked pavement. Quick steps across the hot road, the pads of our feet like on fire, is another sound of summer that drifts to me. 

A rural neighbor had a dock for a float plane. The float plane was for occasional fishing trips up north.

We didn't have a nearby airport and weren’t under a direct flight path (although we occasionally saw jet contrails high in the sky). The float plane made us feel modern. Air space was otherwise the realm of birds.

In the country we had minimal car traffic. A small number of cars and farm equipment passed by on any given day.

A car going by made for some interest. We knew the neighbors’ cars. My brothers could tell who was going by without looking. They could tell by the sound of the engine or the speed at which the car was driven.

When we thought about it we wondered where the farm neighbors might be going. There weren’t many places to go to then - to some other neighbor’s or into town.

Cars we couldn’t identify were the tourists, and at the end of the season most of them were gone.

The sounds of nature were all around but were often muted. You had to have an alert ear and be observant.

The soft thud of an apple off the apple tree in August or September could go unnoticed as you walked by. It takes being on watch. 

This gets you to notice things to wonder about. It’s a gift that develops when you spend time in nature.

The rumble of farm pickups and tractors over the wood planked bridge near our country home is a sound my ears readily pick up again. 

As kids we swam in the river under the bridge. The bump-bump-bumpity-bump of farm equipment crossing over was exciting.

It was like two different worlds going on, which of course is exactly what it was. 

The farmers (often farm kids were driving the tractors – teenage boys with sun-bleached hair and strong with well-worked summer muscles) were probably unaware of us.

From under the bridge we were hidden from them, and were far removed from the reality of their working day.

I still hear (as memory brings it to me) the sounds of our farm neighbor calling his herd of cows to the barn in the late summer evenings. 

Getting his dairy herd into shelter was a nightly ritual shared with us through the sound of his voice carried across the river.

It gave a sense of ineffable peace. It was like nothing could ever change. You could believe his voice would go on everlastingly into the summer dusk.

The barking of farm dogs running out to chase our car (and other cars) and the snapping noises some made as they went for the tires comes to me. 

This memory lies further down in the pack. It didn’t emerge immediately. But it has shown up and makes me smile as thought is given to it.  

A few dogs in our rural neighborhood were inveterate car chasers. 

Some did it for the love of it. Others were quite mean-spirited. We knew those places and were glad we were safely inside the car whenever we rode that particular stretch of road.

It was the era before boom boxes. Music outdoors was mostly limited to transistor radios. Transistor owners used earplugs to keep the sounds contained.

Because of the general quiet surrounding us the sounds I recall are of nature or they’re communal in nature. 

The sounds are the sounds of our lives. We were at play, at peace with each other and outside in the fresh good air.

We never dreamed life would be so much louder than it was then. The sounds of our youth become a marker by which we measure change.

Ro Giencke – August 23, 2014







1 comment: