Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are Suburbs Really Silent?

This columnist seems to think so, musing after a 3-month trip spent in a US suburb.
As I was saying, there are no sounds of leaves rustling in the wind, no bird calls and worse, no human sounds. You can go for days without meeting (or hearing) anyone.
Simply put, his stay has been in a house with completely closed windows, evidently a McMansion of sorts, "
big house, bigger home entertainment system and gas-guzzling SUVs" , as he describes it. The kind that many NRIs like to live in- manicured acres of fresh-sodded lawn, fresh from the nursery trees, imposing brick fronts and chandeliered foyers, ecru walls and granite countertops. Sparklingly new, with minimal furniture, definitely not all stuffed with the detritus of years of consumerism. Lots so huge that it would take you 10 minutes just to walk up to the neighbor's door.
But then, all suburbs are not alike.
In my neighborhood, it's hard to miss the unmistakable sounds of the lawn mowers powering up without fail, every three days.Or the cheep of chickadees and cardinals, harsh squawks of grackles and blue jay whistles, the bustle and rustle of chipmunks playing tag among the mulched leaves. Or the rumblings of school buses, landscaping and remodeller's trucks. Or the quiet monotones of moms taking their morning power walks, dogs straining at leash before them. Or the occasional blast from a teen's car sound system. The squeals of children in the yard, where they are free to scream without waking up babies. The neighbor's dog Shadow, who loves to bark at any walkers, now mournfully confined with a radio-collar based 'Invisible Fence' after the removal of the old pine fence. The high pitched yaps of Daisy, toy poodle, and kid magnet par excellence when she is taken out on her daily constitutional.
The newer suburbs have a raw unfinished quality to them. All they have going for them is their sparkling newness and size. They aspire to the graciousness that will only come with age. But the quality of warmth that comes from having a wooded lot with old (and I mean old, as in 40+ years old) trees is hard to come by. The newer styles of construction lay emphasis on 'more house and less yard' (a sentiment that I'm sure that my husband heartily agrees with... or maybe not. I might underestimate him there.) The lawn and the yardwork may be boring chores, but over the years, I think a sense of appreciation for the cliched- as- it- may- seem term 'communing with nature' has crept into our brains.
Silent suburbs or not, it only takes a practiced ear to listen to and absorb the sounds of silence.


lekhni said...

I hear most of these sounds too, especially now that it's spring and I can finally keep the windows open all the time. Bird songs and lawn mowers and children and dogs, yes, they are all there.

But silence is completely relative. I think I always forget how noisy India really is, despite having lived in some very crowded areas in India.. so this time, I took some time to adjust to the sounds of near-continuous car horns and bus horns, people on the floors below and on the ground talking loudly, arguing,sounds of the pressure cooker from the nest apartment...even the birds, like the crows, seem to have extra-strength calls :)

Sujatha said...

Come to think of it, the only birds that I remember hearing in India were the crows, vocal and social as they were. We get them here occasionally, visiting in flocks as they pass through. They rarely stay long.
I don't really miss the cacophony of traffic- the Americans have it right, horns are meant to be used only as a warning or sharp protest at unsafe driving(real or perceived), while we coast along in our cocooned cars and vans, listening to the music or the cell phone.
The pressure cooker sound still reverberates from my kitchen. It used to make M throw tearful tantrums when she was a toddler- she hated the sound then, but pays no attention to it now. I suspect that the dour bachelor next door has gotten used to its blasts that he can hear in summer, when we leave the windows open.