Spring sounds

As I’m guessing you’ve noticed, the world has gone a little quieter. This is one of the blessings popping up like stubborn shoots in the chaos.

Here’s another:


If you, like me, find noises in general objectionable, now is a great time to open a window and listen. The birds are going absolutely bonkers. Are they always, this time of year? Probably, but now there are fewer cars and trains and crowds to drown them out. Maybe it gives their tiny ears a break, too. 

(Excuse me for a second while I Google “do birds have ears.” This is a well-researched operation, folks.)

Just now there is one making a bona fide ruckus somewhere outside. It’s echoing off the buildings. I’m very proud of her, whoever she is, screaming out her cause. 

There are still cars, still the traffic noises on busy roads. People still honk for understandable and mind-boggling reasons alike. In fact, I bet the honk-per-mile (hpm) rate is the same as in normal times (especially when Maryland plates are involved (Maryland drivers are THE worst and yes, I will die on this hill (specifically, when a Maryland driver inevitably runs me over someday))) but there are a lot fewer miles being driven, which means fewer honks in general. 

On my long walk to shake my mounting anxiety today, it was a little easier, even in the middle of a city, to hear nothing for a few moments but birds and breeze and squirrels rustling around for acorns. 

It’s the first day of spring. 

Last October, my parents and I visited a few of the national parks in the canyon lands of the southwest. We parked at Rainbow Point, the last stop along the ridge over Bryce Canyon, and hiked to the edge. It was the first time in as long as I could remember that I couldn’t hear anything. Not a human voice, or a footstep, or the rumble of machinery or tires, or even wind or animals.

This lasted about 20 seconds, and then people walked nearby and a jet growled overhead. 

Given how rare this experience of actual quiet is in my own life, I’m amazed to think how recently in human history our ancestors lived in a quiet world. Four hundred years ago:

[G]o back a couple of hundred years, and the smog clears. Go back beyond tobacco, and even the domestic space smells sweeter. The by-products of heavy industry no longer cling to the hair and clog the lungs. Cities are fewer and smaller. Unless you are housed next door to some noxious trade like tanning, you can wake up and smell the flowers. As a Tudor, you might not trust your local water supply, which is why you drank ale for breakfast, but the River Thames out there was alive with salmon. Unless you were caught up in a war, the loudest sound you heard might be thunder, or church bells.

Hilary Mantel, “The Iron Maiden

Imagine: the clamor of church bells being the loudest thing many people would ever hear. 

And a few centuries earlier:

Imagine, in place of today’s modern traffic and electronic noise, the sound of birdsong, animals, church bells, plainchant, human voices and the occasional hunting horn or strumming of a lyre.

Alison Weir, “Queens of the Conquest,” at 3.

Welcome to spring, everyone. I hope it sounds and smells sweet where you are.

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