Being an early riser I have always loved to walk the garden in the morning. I don’t know why, as if like the fable, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” a huge vine will manifest itself the day after I have planted it. But I believe that I enjoy being out and around early because it is before my senses—particularly hearing—have been bombarded and compromised by the day.
Living on a dead-end street, we get infrequent traffic and on weekend mornings there is little ambient car noise from the surrounding streets. This time of year you hear the active rustle of leaves as squirrels scamper about looking for the next nut. The birds are up and chirping—nuthatches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice, thrushes, snowbirds and others are queuing up in shrubs and trees around my suet and seed feeders. A little after 7 am, the bells start ringing at a nearby religious retreat for matins and soon a train whistle rises over the hills from over four miles away.
I appreciate all of these little sounds as they add another layer of sensory experience to being in the garden. One of the things that is reinforced in horticultural therapy is that any exercise should stimulate multiple senses. So in the fall the shaking of seed pods or moving your hand through a stand of drying grass are ways that we can engage our ears and then our minds. Unfortunately this aspect of gardening is being lost and squandered.
We just had a beautiful warm fall weekend that encouraged you to be in the yard. I was out raking leaves. I love the sound of the rake against the ground and the leaves being pushed into a fluffy pile. A slightly different sound, not as hard and indicative of shuffling, occurs when you walk through a pile of leaves. Even though my wife says my hearing is going, which it is, I cherish these little differences when I’m outside.
After a bit, I decide to strike up a chat with my son-in-law Alan who was splitting wood. Initially he doesn’t respond but after a loud yell, he stops his work and removes a white ear piece. “You call, Erik?” I then looked over at my daughter Sarah and her boyfriend Dan who were stacking wood. They too have little white buds within their ears. It’s the invasion of the iPod people.
Alan and I had a nice little chat but as soon we were finished he reattached his ears to his iPod and got into the groove.
Now I noticed that a few of the neighbors were up and clearing their lawns of detritus using leaf blowers. My quiet raking and activities during the rest of the day was drowned out by these loud tools, which average 100 dB at their source (a little less loud than a power lawn mower.) Perhaps that is why my fellow workers were plugged in as they realized the inevitability of a sonic assault. More likely is the increasing desire by more and more people to tune-out (nature) and plug-in (their iPods.)
It appears that people are choosing not to listen to the sounds of their gardens, which are regulated by the Music of the Spheres, but rather to the sounds of technology, which are dictated by the fashions and actions of the day. And when the sounds of technology are discordant, as are leaf blowers, chain saws and other noisome devices, many people decide to mask the reality of the situation. Not so different from the 17th and 18th century use of perfumes by the European affluent to cover body odor from the lack of bathing (a far cry from the ancient Romans.)
Like the morning fog, the early sounds of the garden are burned off by the noise of cars as well as the tools of mass destruction and noise. With the increase of these sounds goes the sensitivity of my hearing and discerning the quiet little things that happen within the garden. The squirrels are in the leaves but I can’t hear the rustle. The birds are in the trees but I can’t hear the movement of their wings. Only with the night comes a respite but in the fall there is little to hear. The peepers of spring and frogs and cicadas of summer have long been asleep. But out of the blue comes the plaintive sound of a train whistle, reminding me of a happier and less noisy morning.