Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Drills and Drumming

If there is one thing my husband reminds me every year it is that where we live in northern New Jersey is much more quiet than where we lived in Queens, NY. 

Many was the night we heard blaring radios, people in different languages shouting at each other and the occasional gunshot. 

I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., land of car alarms, ambulance sirens and kids playing all over the street. As I was one of those kids the noise didn't bother me, it was just there. In Queens I wasn't bothered most of the time but when the fireworks would start going off in June I would get pissed off and then the gunshots would scare me.

Eventually, we left for the safer, quieter suburbs where we would have space. That is why, the longer I've lived here, what noise I hear now seems louder, piercing and unexpected.

In late February I would leave the house for my morning walk and I'd hear drumming, the sound of a male woodpecker - usually a downy but possibly any of the six types that would be around northern New Jersey - striking a tree branch to announce its availability to the opposite sex and/or defend its chosen territory.

Downy woodpecker, the smallest type in New Jersey.

That sound I don't mind.

I'm learning to tolerate the noise of barking dogs left outside on mild days and small children playing in their yards.

But with the warming temperatures at the end of March, the home projects have returned.

As I sit in my office trying to work there is hammering, sawing, drilling and other ungodly machine screeching as people add on to their houses, repair their roofs, rip up the blacktop for paving stones on their driveways.

They call this "improvement."

The borough is putting in a much-needed sidewalk on the next street, and that has meant cutting down trees and grinding the stumps, sounds I hate to hear because it means fewer trees for the birds. When they start building the sidewalks, the noise will get worse.

But it will eventually end, and since I want a sidewalk I can put up with it, albeit with difficulty.

What I can't put up with is the infernal racket of the lawn services.

I can tolerate my husband pushing our little Toro over our 0.4 acre or those neighbors, even the ones with the big lawn tractors, who do it themselves. 

But when the paid crews come in they bring huge, powerful machines making incredibly annoying noise, which means on a nice day I am rushing to close the window and put my headphones on the radio to try and block it out.

And different houses have different services that come on different days.

I don't know which I hate more, the mowers or the leaf blowers with their whiny arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr to get every last bit of nongrass debris off the lawn.

I know, I know, like the birds these guys gotta eat and they wait all winter for the first hint of warmth that allows them to hire seasonal workers and get some contract business on the account books. And there are homeowners who have waited all winter, put up with the house (only 4 bedrooms for 6 people? the nerve!) and now want to bulk up and spruce up the place to raise the property values so when the economy really improves they can sell the house for something better.

Besides, says MH, would you prefer living in the city with the salsa music blaring from the cars double-parked in front of the corner bodega and the gunshots? 

No, I don't. But I would also prefer people realize that cutting their lawns within an inch of their lives every single week and then watering them when the summer sun inevitably turns them brown is a waste of energy and resources, including water and their money. 

And that a pristine, weed-free, bug-free, worm-free, bird-free, uniform lawn is not a REAL lawn and far from natural. It's advertising that says, look at me, I have the perfect lawn. I'm better than you.

I am aware I am being unrealistic, and I can understand why I see people with earbuds stuck in wherever they go, including when they are driving, to block out the noises and distractions and provide the perfect soundtrack to their world.

That, in part, is why I go into the woods and listen to the birds. But I refuse to blare music into my ears all day from now until winter to disassociate myself from the world. 

I don't want to miss the birds singing and drumming away. They don't seem put off by man's inhumanity to nature. I must try and follow their example.