Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rush Hour in the Country

During the hot weather, I've been trying to do my walking first thing in the morning, after Prairiewolf leaves. Not only does this start my day out productively and keep me from procrastinating exercise out of my daily schedule, it's also generally the coolest part of the day.

Before school started, only a few cars would pass me each morning. Now that the academic year has begun, there's been a marked increase in traffic.

That said, I sure am glad that I live in the country. (Visiting K.C. recently reaffirmed that.) This morning, my "busy rush hour" consisted of a bakers' dozen vehicles - 12 cars/pick-up trucks and 1 true truck - passing me during the course of my 35-40 minute walk. It doesn't seem like very many, but they are still amazingly distracting.

Given that I can hear each vehicle from well over a mile away, one of the main distractions they create is road noise. On the plus side, in between each vehicle's passing I get to listen to the sounds of the wind rustling through the grass and the birds and insects calling from the fields and hedgerows.

As I walked this morning, I wondered if it would be possible to locate the place and season of a recording just based upon the natural sounds of that location. I know that listening to certain songs can temporarily transport me back in time to a different time and place. Could I get good enough at hearing the sounds of nature that listening to a recording of those natural sounds would transport me mentally to where and when that recording was made?

It's funny: country life is considered so "quiet", but it can actually be quite noisy. Think of cicadas singing on a summer afternoon, or coyotes howling at night. There's a great little scene in My Cousin Vinny where city boy Vinny actually can't sleep in a cabin in the woods because of all the strange noises he hears. He doesn't get a good night's sleep until he finds a bed in the local jail, where bells, whistles and the sounds of people surround him all night long.

Out here, the natural noises usually relax me, but even the slightest human noise seems jarring and out of place: the neighbors' talking across the road, the car humming on the pavement a mile or more away, the plane flying overhead, the refrigerator motor kicking on in the kitchen as I write, the whir of the computer fan.

At the same time, through the open window I hear at least 3 different kinds of insects (grasshoppers? crickets? cicadas for sure) singing. If I concentrate on just those songs, my mind quiets and my entire body relaxes. I feel at peace.

I've set myself the task of learning to identify as many of these natural songs as I can. Maybe someday I truly will be able to locate myself solely through natural sounds, and meanwhile I'll enjoy picturing the singer as I listen peacefully to the song.

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