These days I pray for rain. Not because of drought but because of sound. It’s true that I love the light swishing rhythms of rain drumming on the roof but my desire for rain is driven by noise…the flip side of sound.
When sound becomes noise
Sound and noise are not the same thing. “Sound”connotes positivity while “noise” suggests something undesirable. For example, the sound of children playing is pleasant but it turns into noise when it progresses to arguments and fighting—conflict.
Sound is measured in decibels. According to experts, 130 decibels is the pain level in the human ear. A few common sounds have these ratings: snowmobile = 120, chain saw = 110, amplified music = 110, lawn mower = 90, normal conversation = 60 and leaves rustling = 10 (one of my favorite sounds). ATV vehicles average 91 – 100 decibels.
I’m sensitive to sound, as well as its absence and I’m probably not alone. When I awake slowly to the chirping of birds in our yard, the day seems to unfold gracefully with a smile. For the few rock concerts I have attended, I wore earplugs. After 9/11, I noticed an eerie silence in the sky when flights at BWI Airport were canceled. Nightly cricket symphonies, a soothing sound I usually love, became frenzied, almost as if the crickets were compensating for the absence of airport flights overhead.
Looking forward to rainy days
The need for rain these days is closely connected with a recent noise presence in my neighborhood. Some middle-school boys have acquired dirt bikes and they are obviously engrossed in their new toys. I understand their excitement. In fact, I love riding motorcycles and have a motorcycle license. I’ve owned several Hondas and when I taught in Baltimore City, my students called me Motorcycle Mama.
Weekends I used to ride with friends just for the joy of the experience. During leisurely rides in the country, I relished the sweet smell of honeysuckle and anticipated the chill air in the dips and the contrasting hot currents as the road climbed. I would still have a bike now except it be unwise to risk my new knee after I went through the ordeal of knee replacement surgery.
A few weeks ago, as I was working at my computer, uploading images to my iStockphoto portfolio for sales, I began to be aware of a growing tenseness. A constant background noise, along with vibrations under my feet, had affected my focus. The neighbor boys were riding their new motorbikes up and down, up and down, up and down my dead-end street. Every time they passed my window, the floor noticeably rumbled under my feet.
It would not have gained my attention if a bike were started in a nearby driveway and then the rider was off and riding somewhere. Instead, it was the constant repetition that caused the disruption. When someone is mowing a lawn or trimming hedges with electric clippers, it is a temporary noise. When little boys ride up and down your street, with no end in sight (except on rainy days), it becomes an endless annoyance.
No end in sight
I thought the boys would grow tired of their monotonous journey, hours riding back and forth on a short dead-end street. I was wrong. Every day after school and on weekends, the noisy pattern continued with constant zoom-zoom-zooming back and forth, increased speed matching increased exhilaration of the riders. Sometimes there was a single rider. Sometimes two bikes. Sometimes two on one bike. Sometimes with and sometimes without a helmet. Besides the noise, we were also concerned about safety.
I talked with one of the boys about his speed on the street but it didn’t change. My husband, David, and I both talked with one boy, who quickly summoned his nearby forces of other neighborhood boys to surround him and give him support. We told him that it was annoying and most likely illegal and they should stop or we’d contact the police.
It didn’t stop. David talked with the parents of two boys who told him that because of the engine displacement size of the dirt bike, it was legal for their middle-school sons to ride on the street.
We were resigned to grinding our teeth or moving. Then, during a particularly active day, we heard a brief police siren and noticed one of the boys walking his bike back home. He did not look happy.
We had not called the police. It isn’t our style. That’s why we talked with the boys and their parents directly. But we were glad for the tranquility in the neighborhood for a few days…
…until just now… I feel my feet vibrating and hear the familiar zoom and rumble. Sigh…
(Turn on your speakers and check out this video. Keep in mind that it was filmed from inside my house.)