by Dan Hyde
Reprinted from the Peninsula Pulse, Door County, Wisconsin
Thumpa, BOOM, thumpa BOOM, boom boom, thumpa BOOM; WHEEeeow, WHEEeeoooww; dadadadada, vroom, putt, putt, dadadadada. Bass cannon, weed whacker, homko.
Ask your basic concerned citizen for a list of precious resources and you'll get a catalog of things that grow and flow; can be seen, heard and measured. Water, shrubs, creatures and fossil fuels worthily appear. Yet, one is invariably absent mostly because it's invisible and unmeasurable. It is nothing. It is a void. It is quiet, as in peace and quiet. You know, what should happen right after...."SSHHH"....
Well, if quiet is nothing, there sure seems to be a lot less of it than in the not-so-distant past. Sounds that eliminate quiet can be as pleasant as a honking Canada goose overhead or as annoying as a flailing jet skier on an otherwise still bay. Though music to a peculiar few, the latter falls nicely into the category of noise. And it's just one example of disturbing sound that is becoming more and more pervasive. However, little is or can be done to control it.
Legislation is broad-brushed and deals with laboratory specifications which simply don't reflect the real world. "Disturbing the peace" enforcement generally affects only the wild party or missing muffler. Industry daringly fulfills minimum standards.
Technology of convenience and entertainment has led to a string of products that intrude on many people's quiet while serving but one master. The master is most often oblivious to the effect on his nearby fellows. Think of the pleasant dinner raucously interrupted by the LawnBoy next door. The hike in soft, new snow deranged by distant yet whining Ski Doos. A placid afternoon in the garden screamed away by the power leaf blower across the road. Reading a book on the deck traumatized by the neighbor's AM bleating a loud Rush Limbaugh. A day at the beach......etc......etc....
Noise hurts. The World Health Organization, among many other groups, has studied and documented the ill effects of noise on both physical and mental health. Everything from irritability to high blood pressure and heart disease have been directly connected with exposure to disturbing sound. And that's just what they can measure in decibels and frequencies. Why do you suppose the ATF tried to flush out the Branch Davidians with loud music in Waco? Why do you suppose hospitals hang "Quiet Zone" signs? Many sounds, like that genius behind you at the movies explaining all to his date, simply don't get studied. Universally considered annoying, however.
In a world so concerned with property lines and individual 'space', the audio dimension is cavalierly ignored. While a person would never consider setting up for a picnic in someone else's rose bed uninvited, the same respect for space isn't even a thought when it comes to sending audio chaos over the fence. In fact, noise makers often protect their own ears with soundproof headgear while merrily sending the screeching, throbbing noises on their way. Time to blow the dust off the driveway, never mind the nerve wrenching effect on all creatures in earshot.
Ironically, much of the noise-making activity not only has harmful health consequences but also comes in lieu of health-inducing activity. Most "convenience" power tools and toys bypass physical exertion. Atrophied muscles, hands the consistency of grandma's pudding. Most produce noxious fumes, use up fossil fuels and dribble nasties all over the place. The ratio of a little time-saving or hollow thrill to the direct and indirect expense is lopsided in the wrong direction.
So, OK, why? Is it a hidden desire to replace that family name on the mailbox with "Andy's Small Engine Warehouse"? Is everyone that weak or tired? Is time that short? Doubt it. More likely a societal obsession with acquisition. The latest, greatest, trickiest, fastest, whatever. "Mom, we're in the country, I'm going to fire up a motor!" Oh those Joneses....
Wouldn't life be wonderful if a nostalgic boom in the other direction occurred. That soothing sound of a reel mower clicking across the lawn. The easy shuffle of one of those big reedy rakes. Swish of a broom. Rhythm of a buck saw. Ploosh of a paddle. Don't hold your breath.
A reasonable hope is some awakening by people to the health-pollution-consumption equation. A second hope is a rise in their consciousness of the destination of their noise. Just maybe people will realize other people can hear them. Extend a bit of courtesy. Try an alternative. Limit the time. A gentle reminder might help. Tear this out and mail it to them.
As this is writing ends -- true story -- it's 6:00 p.m. and Paul Bunyan Jr. just up the road has fired up the Homelite to flex his wilderness spirit at the summer home by dicing up a few fallen limbs. And rattle all the neighbors' dinner hour. WRAAAaaaaAAAHH. WRAAAaaaaAAAHH. See.
Quiet is good. And disappearing.