Dealing with noise

Cogitation 26/204 Saturday 29 June 2019 This morning, fairly early, as we were walking to pick strawberries, we heard a train whistle, a factory humming away, and a motorcycle heading along 15th Street–and the welcome howdy-do of birds singing.

There was peace and quiet in the patch. Today was the last day for the of season at Yoder’s strawberry field nearby.

We’ve all been exposed to some form of extreme noise, and maybe even constant noise. What can be done about troublesome noise, apart from just covering your ears? Extreme noise reaches us from sirens, motor vehicles, trains, aircraft, jack-hammers, rock concerts, chain saws, lawn mowers. television ads, fireworks, and more.

Constant noise can come from a factory, a busy motorway, a dripping faucet, right now an air-conditioner, and every so often, barking dog(s). Thankfully, more people and agencies are taking notice.

A train track bisects the Goshen College campus. Foot access from one side to the other is provided by a tunnel, as well as several surface crossings and a drive. On our walk to the Goshen Public Library, we waited out this train. The engineer waved, we waved, no whistle. The music center (farther to the right) was built to eliminate outside noise, including train whistles. The auditorium is an acoustical wonder. Beautiful. Unwanted noise can be dealt with.

Harm of various kinds

Whatever the source, noise pollution, also known as environmental noise, harms human and animal life. The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines such noise as “unwanted or disturbing sound. Sound becomes unwanted when it either interferes with the normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes ones quality of life.”

Years ago I wrote a letter to the editor in support of the fireworks the previous July 4 night. There was the official grand fireworks at Rice Field at Central High School, along with many, many private volley parties. I commended the unifying spirit the celebration occasioned. The celebration brought neighbors together in a new way. I also noted that many, including our household, were concerned for the welfare of pets and wild animals and that the fireworks should not stretch out for weeks before and after the 4th, as a few people continued to do.

Noise pollution is a health issue

David Owen addressed the issue in an article in The New Yorker, “Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?” (May 6, 2019). He noted that “The first serious sufferers of occupational hearing loss were probably workers who pounded on metal: blacksmiths, church-bell ringers, the people who built the boilers that powered the stream engines that created the modern world.” Today, the first thing people think of is amplified music, he said. The threat, however, goes beyond music and affects more than hearing.

Owen: “Studies have shown that people who live or work in loud environments are particularly susceptible to many alarming problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, low birth weight, and all the physical, cognitive, and emotional issues that arise from being too distracted to focus on complex tasks and from never getting enough sleep.”

He added, “Scientists have begun to document the effects of human-generated sound on non-humans–effects that can be devastating as those of more tangible forms of ecological desecration.”

Our communication is one of silence, amidst nearby noises. I hope soon to be able to hear the peeps of newborns.

One source, Les Blomberg, founder and executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, Montpelier, Vermont, told Owen that if we could see how we’re littering our soundscape, “it would look like piles and piles of McDonald’s wrappers, just thrown out the window as we go driving down the road.”

There are answers to noise pollution, some of which came into law in the US a half century ago. Others could be implemented, such as “Directional sirens could significantly reduce or eliminate noise for people who are not in the path of an emergency vehicle.” Or, enforcement of “laws requiring the use of E.P.A.-approved exhaust systems on all motorcycles.”

Let’s hear it for the soft sounds of nature

The ideal opposite of noise, of course, is not total silence. Absolute silence is as disturbing as unwanted noise. I’m talking about the soft sounds of nature, the mourning dove, the breeze soughing through the leaves of a tree, waves meeting the shore, the purr of a cat.

On our walk yesterday we heard birds singing and frogs sounding off as though they were tuning up for an orchestra concert.

This Red-Wing Blackbird guarded his mate’s nest. He had dive-bombed a walker we met, then kept his eyes on us.

The Silence and the Roar

I came across a novel at the library this week, whose title, The Silence and the Roar, by Nihad Sirees, caught my eye. It’s a political allegory with a liberating bite.

Fathi Sheen, the protagonist, is a writer who, even though he is silenced by the regime, will not kowtow to the Leader and his followers who are roused to a frenzy in the reigning despots 20th anniversary self-aggrandizing razzle-dazzle celebration. The cover blurb notes the book is “a funny, sexy, scathing novel about the struggle of an individual over tyranny.”

Fathi said how he’s learned to ignore noise: “The technique is quite simple. All you have to do is withdraw inside yourself and listen to your own inner voice and forget all about the annoying sounds that constitute the roar.”

In detention, for refusing to march in adulation of the Leader, “I would listen to myself as I talked about things that I enjoy in the world or else responded to specific questions I would ask myself: for example, Do I like springtime in this country? After answering yes or no, I would then demonstrate the soundness of my reply with specific evidence. Do I love this country? Yes. Do I love what’s happening to me presently in this country? Not so much. And so forth and so on.”

In one interrogation, Fathi asked, “”So you’re forcing me to choose then, between the silence of prison and the noise of the regime.” The interrogator responded: “If I were you, I’d be more worried about the silence of the grave.”

Fathi describes the conditions in his country as surreal, a regime in thought and action uncontrolled by reason, justice and moral concepts.

Sage voices that live on

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) wrote, “Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed; / A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light, / A rosy garland and a weary head.”

From John Keats (1795-1821): “And then there crept / A little noiseless noise among the leaves, / Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.”

And, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): “Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is as shallow as Time.”

From antiquity: “Amyclaean Silence. Amyclae in the south of Sparta was so often alarmed by false rumour of the approach of the Spartans, that a decree was issued forbidding mention of the subject. When the Spartans actually came no one dared give warning and the town was taken. Hence the proverb, more silent than Amyclae.” The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable.

Finally, another old proverb: Speech is silver, silence is golden. The Hebrew equivalent is: “If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two.”

Explosions of color, worth two shekels

Quick sum

Work in the fields was obvious this week. It included an Amishman scuffling a crop. Today we picked strawberries in the field across from the Greencroft campus. We picked almost 10 pounds. The best of those are in the freezer and the rest are mushed, ready to eat or put in a smoothie. This was the last day of picking. The patch is now closed after a three-week season.

Potatoes? Not sure.
Pickers in the Yoder strawberry field earlier this week.

Parting (soundless) shots

Sunset last night.
A choice spot on the Greencroft campus to tarry among fragrant pine needles.
A field at Greencroft grazed by bees, birds, and other creatures of the wild.

Be well.

3 thoughts on “Dealing with noise

  1. I love the sounds of silence. Right now I hear a few bird tweets and the wind rustling through the trees. Once you enter a school you hear announcements, bells, children laughing, crying, not a second goes by without noise and the last week is school is especially filled with chaotic noise. I love the sounds of silence. Like you say we live in a noisy world, sometimes good sometimes not so.


  2. Thanks, John. Enjoy your hand-picked strawberries and the Sound of Silence. We don’t often think about noise pollution or even light pollution until it interferes with our lives. I like the idea of “directional sirens”; that could save lives!

    Monty & Ginger



    1. Thanks Monty. Strawberries are now a memory, though some are frozen and waiting. Michigan blueberries up next.


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