Friday, June 01, 2012


Noises. They surround us as part of the air in which we're immersed. Loud, soft, and often subtle, almost not there.

We have a new neighbor in our neighborhood. We've seen him before, but this year he's become the source of constant noise. He pounds on things; mostly wood. His hammering is one of the first things we hear in the morning as we're awakening, and it continues often throughout the day from different locations around our immediate neighborhood. We see him once in awhile, most often when he comes to eat in our yard at the suet feeder - that's right, he's a bird, a Downy woodpecker.

This little fellow makes a drumming noise by beating his beak against a tree or a wood utility pole. It's not an exceptionally loud noise, but it is noticeable. I stop what I'm doing when I hear him, and I listen in wonderment. I've read that woodpeckers drum to announce their territory. I've always wondered how they can do this and still have a functional brain! It's one of those strange facts of nature. I heard him the other day while I was in front of the house, and I finally found him at the top of a utility pole across the street. He clung to the side of the pole and beat his little brains out against the wood - over and over - until he decided it was time to move on. We're pleased to live in the middle of his territory so we can enjoy the noise he makes.

About a week ago, we went with friends to a musical theater production on what turned out to be a very stormy evening. Our wives left for home at intermission (it was a horrible production) in the one car we had shared. My buddy and I stayed to the bitter end; we had a wrong delusion that maybe the second act would be better - it wasn't. Afterwards we decided to walk to his house, and he would then drive me home. It was a beautiful, almost warm evening just after a large rain storm had passed through. By the time we got to his house I had decided to walk the rest of the way home, and so I set off into the dark night.

At about 10 o'clock I heard the first salvos of fireworks down by the river celebrating the opening of the Portland Rose Festival. The noise of fireworks in the distance is different from thunder because of the various types of explosives being used. The noises also echoed off the buildings of the residential neighborhood through which I was walking. The combination of darkness, dampness in the air, mild temperature, the smells after a rainfall, and the stark noise of fireworks made for a memorable walk. I stopped in the middle of an intersection where I could see some of the fireworks above the trees and houses from my location at a higher elevation.

As I stood and watched the fireworks for a brief moment, my thoughts went to a few years ago when we had gone down to the river to find a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks show. We ended up in a crowd on the floating walkway on the east side of the river, directly across from the fireworks barge anchored in mid-river. This was the closest I had ever been to large fireworks, and it was both fascinating and terrifying. The fascination was watching the dark shapes of the fireworks crew scramble around on the barge, the flashes of the explosions that sent each explosive payload skyward, and the closeness of the explosive displays almost directly overhead. The almost terrifying part was the noise, the flames, and the ash and glowing embers falling on us. I've never been in a war, but I suddenly experienced what was probably the closest I'll ever be to the sights, sounds, and physical feeling of explosive concussive force that I imagine is part of combat. I thought a lot that evening about the people who are far away from home, fighting in a war where the explosions are more than fireworks.  We agreed that we'll never get that close again.

When I got to Belmont, a main street, there was a small group of people standing on the corner where they could see the fireworks at the river end of the street in the distance, and I joined them just for a moment. Then I ducked into a pizza shop, got a slice to go, and munched my way home on the last leg of a very fine walk, indeed - noise and all.

We also had a thunder storm last week, which is unusual in Portland. We were sitting on our back deck in the sun, enjoying one of the first outdoor dinners of the year. In the distance, to the north, we could see dark clouds gathering, and when a breeze kicked up from that direction, we knew it was coming our way. The noise of a far away thunderstorm is a low rumbling that seems to roll towards you across the landscape and then pass like a slow freight train. It's a noise that was part of my youth in Chicago, where thunderstorms are common. I very much enjoy thunderstorms.

We finally moved into the house when the temperature dropped and the wind picked up; but I went back outside every few minutes to check the storm's progress as it approached. Storms have a special set of smells and sounds. Faint flashes of lightning were followed by rolling thunder, and I realized that I was counting the seconds between each flash and it's associated noise, something I had done as a kid to estimate the distance between a lightning flash and me. The intervals grew shorter until the storm was here, the rain was pounding, and the lightning flashes were very close. By then I was standing on the covered front porch watching the storm, enjoying the sights, smells and noises of a thunderstorm.

There are many other noises in our neighborhood, but these are a few of my favorites.


  1. Was expecting a rage at noisy neighbors, but typical (as I know him anyway) for Paul, got a nice read instead. Makes relocating to Portland all the more desirable.

  2. Thanks Unknown - let me know when you get here (and who you are).