Camped in a parking lot
THE marked difference in sounds - noises - and a relative overabundance of things: These are what I am finding the most difficult to adjust to now that I'm back living in a city after six years of rural existence. Next to nothing in the house, or outside, sounds the same; and there is too much heat, hydro, and water.Skip to next paragraph
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Down East on the farm we cooked and heated throughout with wood; day and night, from late fall to late spring, there was a sort of muffled, crackling sound, punctuated with poppings and hisses, and the near-constant, low-decibel roar of the smoke (and much of the heat) racing up the chimney. Here we have a gas furnace; it taps around a bit before deciding to come on, then thunders its heat up from the basement. No sooner have we adjusted the pitch and volume of our voices to countervail its vocality than it cuts out, leaving us in a suspension of shouting, waiting for it to cut back in. But we're warm enough so that it doesn't need to cut back in. I'm still learning the simple step of turning the thermostat down.
On particularly cold nights our wood-frame farmhouse used to clap its walls to keep warm - or so it sounded, a slow clap of big hands in thick gloves: boof! . . . boof! . . . boof-boof! . . . And outside trees would fire off reports like single rifleshots. Here something in one of the walls makes an extraordinary wrenching sound, and the trees outside do nothing.
Down East we lived primitively: We had no washing and drying machines and no dishwasher. Here we have all three, and they produce distinctively different, quite incredible noises: The dishwasher coughs and splutters, the washing machine pounds in half-time, and the dryer's expressions of effort defy all description.
Our city refrigerator is twice the size of the one we had on the farm; understandably, it is capable of twice the noise, and it never hesitates to prove it. Our kitchen range, electrically powered, knocks when it is cooling off: it's like some little entity inside done to a turn and hammering to get out. Down on the farm the chrome-and-enamel kitchen stove (circa 1923) refused to perform at all when its services were most needed, so we didn't hear much of anything from it; it sulked in relative silence.
All the domestic machinery we have now works more or less instantly; the power is there and plenty of it; the water is there - it gushes forth in alarming torrents. On the farm power failures were common occurrences, and the pump took its time coaxing water up from the well.
Our farmhouse floors were of ancient pine and assorted hardwoods and the best way to clean them - considering we were forever trooping in clay and hay and snow and slush - was to get down on one's knees and scrub and polish them. Here we have broadloom from one end of the house to the other, necessitating the frequent use of a vacuum cleaner. I had forgotten how belligerent vacuum cleaners can sound. But it always works: There is always more than enough power for it.
While we live on what is considered to be a quiet street here in the city, the traffic, by comparison with that in the rural area where we used to live, is far heavier in terms of numbers of vehicles and much closer to the house. As a consequence I still sometimes awake suddenly in the black of night, in the full fright of a conviction that we are camped in the middle of a parking lot.
For the former recluse, moments removed from rurality, there is a lot to be said for a good rainstorm, the barking of dogs, and the bickering of birds. It's old familiar sounds such as those that keep him stable. But, of course, were I to move back to a farm, absolutely everything I have just said would be entirely reversed, and I'd be complaining even more strenuously from the opposite point of view. There is simply no satisfying people like me.