Winds of change affect the Urban Campfire
Living not far from the James River Freeway for 25 years means our venerable Parkcrest/Springfield neighborhood that once was buffered by Greene County meadows is now surrounded by a steady surge of suburban sprawl. The smell of burning leaves that once sent smoke signals (and CO2 gas) int0 the autumn air has been replaced by a whiff of St. Louis-style pork ribs conveyed by mesquite, hickory and wild cherry smoke.
But then, so is the sound of the neighbors’ lawn mowers, or some other two-cycle, four-cycle or unmuffled hot-shot conveyance trying to set a new land-speed record. Add to this the occasional emergency siren and you might begin to think maybe the Amish had a good notion.
As I sit here on a weekend morning listening to the sounds of mowing, edging, weed-eating and leaf-blowing, I am fascinated by the science of sound and its spirit the wind. To head off any debate, sound is affected by wind, similar to the Doppler effect in weather radar and astronomy. Enough of that.
Our favorite way to spend an early morning is to read on the covered patio, our favorite room nine months of the year. (Conveniently, this adjoins the “Outer Office” of the Outdoor Communications and Conference Center of GREENE Magazine, now well into its third year).
If possible, all writing, editing, research and layout takes place on the desktop of a MacBook Pro laptop connected by wifi to our growing network of contributors. Other scribes have expressed envy upon hearing the sound of courting cardinals and robins at mating time. Or the early warning of bluejays when a family of hawks is hunting nearby. We may be the only outdoor publication that is truly written outdoors.
Even now, one of several varieties of wrens skips noiselessly around the perimeter of the patio, until it abandons its shyness with an ear-splitting serenade that does not seem possible from one so tiny. Sound defines our surroundings, and has its lessons.
From its incessant and mysterious “urping,” we discovered a tree frog concealed in the grapevine wreath nearby. And you may recall from an earlier column that we observed a bald eagle being chased by a pair of caterwauling crows.
Mother Nature’s panoply is interrupted by medical helicopters returning with someone in critical need of care, or the throbbing drone of a military chopper. Not long ago, a proud B-29 roared over from the Confederate Air Force festivities, and once a B-2 bomber added a surreal Star Wars presence to the early morning.
More often than you might think, the sound of voices aboard two or three of the oldest successful human-carrying aircraft can be heard as a blast of heated air that gives the hot-air balloon its rise to speechless beauty.
For most of this summer, we have been serenaded by the sounds of the Shop Vac, router, power plane, table saw, sander and other tools performing the “Power Tool Cacophony.”
You might assume now that this is ultimately about our noisy neighbors, but that is not the point at all. Each of us contributes to the cacophony; my preferred instrument is the leaf blower used to clear away the dreck that reaches critical mass each few days. The bare limbs of the backyard ash and redbud trees and the crunching of yellow leaves remind us that fall has its obligations.
But it is always the wind that fascinates me most, and how it affects sound. When the wind is from the southwest, the sound of traffic is different than when the breeze is northerly – or not at all.
Wind comes from the rotation of the earth, which moves molecules and creates turbulence, real and otherwise. Imagine what life might be like if there were no wind to cool our bodies; or to provide the updraft for birds, bees and other flying critters (and airplanes). In our not so recent past, wind provided transportation over the oceans; fans the deadly flames of forest fires in Waldo Canyon, a tornado in Joplin and the waves of Hurricane Sandy; and yet wafts the scent of Korean Spice Viburnum in springtime; and delivers a gentle rain to the east in West Plains.
The spiritual union of wind and sound becomes a matter of degree. How much urban noise can you tolerate? How must change is too much? How can the same gentle wind can be a sorry wind; mean and forgiving; uplifting, hot, heartless; dependable, devastating, deadly. Like most everything, sometimes too much and often not enough. Listen to the wind and you will never live the same day twice.