posttrib
HISTORIC 
Weather Updates

Listen up or miss out

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

storyidforme: 45301486
tmspicid: 932537
fileheaderid: 613598

Updated: April 18, 2013 6:04AM



In my reveries, I often drift back home to the rural haven that nurtured me. Like, I sorely miss the sounds from my childhood.

I am thinking how much fun it would be to have a loudspeaker bring the early morning sounds of a crowing rooster (they do other stuff too) a moo or two from the barnyard. A whinny. Maybe the friendly cooing of a dove.

The folks who make our condo rules would surely cry “foul” so I won’t do it, but I am tempted, here in my old age cocoon.

An acoustic ecologist (have you ever met one?) said a few years back that it is nearly impossible in the U.S. “to experience 15 minutes where there is not some kind of noise disruption in the background.”

He said that natural silence is not the absence of all sound, just of man-made sound. So I reckon that the barnyard sounds I miss are OK.

In my childhood there was more silence than man-made sound. But the silence was natural too, a prelude to the reassuring rooster crowing the signal to his hen harem and a reminder to sleepy human persons that there was work to be done.

This noise expert said a woman on a national park walk thought she had lost her hearing, but what she had lost was the ability to listen. Her guide said that some sounds aren’t audible until people have been on the trail for a few days. I had not heard that before, and I have not been on the trail.

Most of us probably don’t spend much time walking in a park, listening for the sounds and silence of nature. I remember that in the dead of winter back home, we could hear tree limbs cracking under their burden if ice and snow.

I suspect that if we really try, and be patient, we can hear the subtle sounds of nature.

In our old house, we could hear the wind whistling through the cracks — a kind of eerie serenade that was a natural sound, part of our lives. So was the music coming from our old piano that my mom coaxed into bringing us sounds that nobody would dare call a “noise disruption.”

On quiet nights we could hear owls, out for a night of fun and foraging, hooting sweet nothings to each other. A clever guy in the barbershop said he wondered if young hooters had trouble deciding to hoot “who” or “whom.” Some fellows thought that was funny and their laughs in response were more natural sounds than real man made noise. Some of us do remember the darndest things, but we usually cannot remember what it is that we forgot.

The expert fellow is right — we are jolted by noise disruptions everywhere we turn, so we just have to be selective and try to sort it out.

Back in 1972, our Congress folks passed the U.S. Noise Control Act, but the federal level program was abandoned under President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and the thing was left up to local and state governments. Nothing much has happened.

Gee whiz, you would think that officials could at least order those young drivers to keep their windows closed if they have to play music loud enough to scare the daylights out of old geezers like me when we are stopped for a red light. Or force theaters to turn the volume down when they are boring us with scenes from upcoming films.

But the birds will soon be singing spring songs — those are heavenly sounds, natural sounds, not noise. There is a difference.

There is one bad thing about silence — it teases us into thinking about the meaning of life. Or even about the Cubs. I can hear some people saying that those two are the same.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.