I'm sitting outside in my new patio space for the first time ever. It is cool with just a hint of a breeze. The new striped umbrella my husband scored on sale at Ace yesterday is all set up to protect me, but the sun won't really make an appearance out here until later. Right now it's providing a cheery ambience.
On my left I can hear the hum of my neighbor's air conditioning unit. From my right comes a fairly frequent whoosh of cars on the road. Overhead, the occasional airplane. There's some kind of a steady insect buzz--cicadas? Footsteps, the beep of a car unlocking, engine starting. A motorcycle zipping by, getting louder as it approaches, then receding into the distance.
We can't hear any of this inside our house. Our double-paned windows protect us and the hum of our air conditioner insulates us from all the sounds of the world around us. There is light and there is darkness, but all the sounds of life are muffled. Our ship sails in silence. We are, somehow, adrift.
Reality is full of imperfections. It is lumpy and bumpy and noisy and often asymmetrical. (There goes that dang motorcycle again.) We take in the real world through the tiny straw of the Internet, which somehow feels more manageable than getting out and interacting with real and imperfect people and situations.
If I concentrate I can hear a bird singing under the heavy pulsating tones of the cicadas. I think I'd really rather hear the bird, but as there is no one to whom I can write and complain about the cicadas, I'll just have to live with it. Our own AC unit kicks on with an aggressive groan and settles back into an acceptable hum; my neighbor's clicks off and goes silent.
All of these sounds were always here. The missing piece was me to bear witness. All wrapped up in my cocoon of a modern insulated house. Believing that the norm was silence, unless I chose for it to be different. I push a button, I flip a switch, I control the universe of sound.
What hubris. What nonsense.
Both AC units have gone silent. The cicadas have pulled back a bit. The road noise subsides for a moment. I am beginning to hear more birds. So many layers. So many crescendi and decrescendi. To my right I briefly hear a human voice, the first such sound in the half hour I have been sitting here.
In the past sixteen years without an outdoor space to enjoy, I have gradually come to forget all of this. Normal for me was the hum of the furnace or the air conditioner. We retreat to our homes to get away from the world, but do we always draw nourishment from that? Does it become an act of sensory deprivation?
Oh! There's a dog barking. Another crescendo from the cicadas. An airplane. The opening and closing of a nearby door.
I think I'll come out here tonight to see if I can hear Merriweather. I mean, how cool would that be? Sometimes we can hear a bass line inside the house, not often. Enough to remind us that it's there.
I wonder how the night sounds are different from the day sounds.