A joyful noise: Listening for the sounds of life

September, 2018 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

I like noise. I should clarify that statement. I like most noise.

Carl Sampson

Carl Sampson

As a guy who has lived and worked in big and small cities – and places where there are no cities at all – the sounds of people are, to me at least, comforting. Silence is something that I usually avoid, unless I’m writing, when I need to concentrate. Otherwise, I like noise.

As a parent, silence was always worrisome to me. When the kids were little, the quieter it was in the house, the more I worried. Was someone hurt? Were the kids getting into something they shouldn’t?  For a parent, silence is the equivalent of a police siren.

I like the sounds of people, cars and all things emblematic of civilization. I find being around people comforting.

Sometimes, however, silence can be comforting as well. A while ago, my wife and I took a hike in the Cascades. It was only a few miles and took us to the top of Triangulation Peak.

As we were heading up the hillside, I noticed something. It was quiet. I don’t mean “city” quiet, when the sound
of traffic briefly subsides. I mean quiet-quiet.
No sounds. Nothing.

“Listen,” I said to my wife. “Can you hear it?
The silence.”

No cars, no kids, no airplanes. Just my wife and I standing silent, surrounded by Mother Nature.

Life also has its unusual sounds.

When we lived on a small farm in Minnesota, I was training to run a marathon. Don’t ask me why. I just decided that I needed to do it. Farm country in that part of state is divided by roads into square miles of corn and soybeans. I would plot my routes based on how many miles east, then north, then west, then south I would run.

Once in a while I would stop and walk. And listen.

I could hear the rustling of leaves on the cottonwood trees that lined the creeks, and a red-wing blackbird would perch on an electrical wire, announcing
its presence.

But then I would hear something else. The old-timers would talk about how you could hear the corn growing. On a hot, humid day in late summer, the corn stalks would burst upward, crackling as they grew an inch or two a day. I would stand there, surrounded by an inestimable number of acres of corn sprawling in all directions, all of it racing skyward in anticipation of the fall harvest. To me, it was the sound of a miracle, of life shifted into fast-forward.

A few weeks ago I found myself in Philadelphia. Like any city, it is noisy and busy. People working and playing, living and dying.

I found myself spending time in a hospital, where my brother was recovering from a heart attack. I could hear the ventilator, the beeping of the monitors and other electronic doodads that told the doctors and nurses that things were OK.

In room after room, other men and women confirmed the spark of life with a cacophony of beeps.

As I sat there, I was comforted by that impromptu symphony of life.

It was a joyful noise.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor.
He lives in Stayton.

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