From GENE LOGSDON
Ask me what I like best about our homestead and my first answer will be the absence of noise. Of course it’s not always quiet but there are blessedly silent hours, like now as I sit on the deck on a warm October evening, gazing at the changing leaves, sipping bourbon and not wishing to be anywhere else or doing anything else in all the world. A neighbor has just finished combining the cornfield next to us and the harvester’s mighty engine is silent. There are no grain trucks thundering down the road. No airplanes cross the skies above, no trains rumble on the tracks just east of us, no one is mowing lawn in the neighborhood, no chainsaws at work in the woods. Peace.
An absence of noise does not mean there are no sounds in the air. Quite the opposite. Without the cacophony of technology numbing my ears, I can hear a bit of wind rustle in the trees, catch the peevish peep of a nuthatch questioning ownership of an acorn with another nuthatch, discern the whisper of hummingbird wings fluttering above my head, note a chicken up at the barn bragging about a just-laid egg, spot the squirrel that is scolding me from the nearby oak, listen to a gang of crows on the other side of the woods giving a hawk or an owl a hard time, wonder what two tree frogs croaking back and forth to each other from the trees are saying about possible rain tomorrow.
But between these sounds, the silence seems palpable. I want to gather a bunch of it in my hand, like a bouquet of flowers, and carry it with me when I have to go to noisy places like cities. It is rare now even in the outer suburbs that silence permeates the air. There is almost always the steady hum of distant four lane highway traffic blocking the soul from being completely at rest.
It is no wonder that humans have resorted to sound machines to help them go to sleep. These machines were first invented, I am told, to blot out unpleasant noise with soothing sound. So dependent have some people become on these machines that they can’t sleep without them. Even quietude prevents slumber.
We were enjoying visitors from the city recently when both of them stopped short in their conversation and looked sharply at us. “Is it raining?” one of the asked. I listened. At first I heard nothing but then realized what they were alarmed by. The crickets were tuning up for another night of what to us is soothing din. I had never realized before that they do make quite a racket. Our visitors did not quite believe us when I said they were hearing crickets and had to go outside to be convinced. “That is a sound we never hear where we live,” one of them said.
As a boy, working ground with disk and harrow before planting, I quite often drove a tractor all day long that lacked a proper muffler. Dad had just improvised a length of roofing downspout to replace the burned-out muffler— directly in front of the steering wheel, about parallel to my ears and hardly four feet away. I blame that on the fact that I have a very low tolerance for loud noise today. In my first days in the woods, I tried to saw up firewood with a one-man crosscut instead of a chainsaw, but soon realized there were limits to my love of silence. Harlan Hubbard, the celebrated artist and homestead author along the Ohio River, cut all his wood with such a saw. He told me he couldn’t stand the noise of a chainsaw. He knew how to sharpen his crosscut so it would eat almost effortlessly through the wood. How many of us today are hard of hearing because we just don’t know to sharpen a saw blade. Harlan would also row his boat all the way across the Ohio River to the library because “a motorboat just makes too much noise.”
But there can be advantages to noise, sort of. In those days of driving a noisy tractor all day, I found that my voice sounded extra melodious if I sang to while away the time. The motor noise drowned out the rough edges of my voice and to my ears I sounded as mellow as Roy Rogers as I bellowed forlornly away on “Oh Bury Me Out On the Lone Prairie.” Since everybody in our family liked to sing, the sounds emanating from the fields during tractor time made motor noise seem in contrast not so hard to bear after all. We also found that the sound of our voices emanating from a nearly empty silo reminded us of opera virtuosos. Grandfather could put on quite a silo concert, singing Latin hymns he learned at church, like O Salutaris Hostia. Sometimes the hogs and cows came running to the barn, thinking they were being called.