I was outside this evening with our dog, standing around the backyard while he did his business and I got to thinking about the sounds. I live in a reasonably big city, not big by New York standards, but big enough for me. We’re close to a major bus route, so the sounds of traffic are very apparent.
I closed my eyes for a second, and listened, I could hear road noises, tires on pavement, a truck or bus engine revving up to make the hill, and other assorted noises.
A car door slamming somewhere, more car noises, and what I would describe as a constant hum. The hum of the city. It’s there all the time.
I think that is why those of us living in cities and towns don’t even notice it after awhile, we become so used to it. In fact, I can say with some certainty that I until this evening, when I concentrated on them, I really couldn’t say I was aware of the sounds of the city around me. At least not in the way a person should be aware.
At the cottage at night, it’s different. Sure, there are sounds, and on the clearest of nights you can listen to a loon on the lake, or perhaps an owl hooting in the forest behind the camp. We also have road noises, a lone car going out the secondary road to the highway, or someone on a four wheeler ATV sneaking down the road at night, heading home from a party.
Frogs and crickets chirp and croak in the swamp behind us, and the wings of nighthawks and swallows whisper from above.
There are other sounds too, some of them harder to place, a splash, maybe from a fish taking a fly off the water, or a muskrat swimming around our cove, or a couple of ducks playing around the edge of the wharf.
The wharf itself creaks, and groans with the waves. In the fall, I like to stand outside the camp at night and listen to the wings of ducks on their migration, some of them make an unmistakable whistling sound as they cut through the night air.
It can, depending on the time of year, be quite loud at night in cottage country, but it’s a different kind of noise, more pleasant I suppose, and more apparent.
It’s those quiet times outdoors at night at the cottage that I relish the most. Standing on the shore of the lake, listening for a loon, or an owl, even the odd call of a lovelorn moose in the fall is such a delight to hear.
As I stood outside in my suburban backyard tonight, listening to the sounds and wondering why I seldom heard them, I realized it it because I have become conditioned to them by because they are constant.
At the cottage, that isn’t usually the case. The night air is usually quiet, but the silence is broken periodically by the sounds I mentioned. Loons don’t call incessently, owls only hoot a few times and seem to move on, a fish jumps, but only once, and the silence returns. Even the guy on the four wheeler races down the highway and eventually makes it home or into the ditch, and the silence returns.
That’s what makes those sounds so memorable, and embeds them in our conciousness, enabling us to recall them on a night in February in the middle of the city. It’s the randomness of wilderness sounds, and I suppose, to some degree the suddeness.
All of a sudden a quiet night erupts into a cacaphony of falsetto voices as a family of loons start to talk to one another, or an owl calls out in the darkness, letting us know he is on patrol. Often, as suddenly as the sound happens, it also disappears and the silence returns, and that is when we become acutely aware of how quiet it truly is, at night, at the cottage, by the lake.
Perhaps the only time some of us will ever know true silence.
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