I sit in my garden reading, writing, the afternoon punctuated by the sound of a neighbor blowing leaves off his lawn. From the other direction I can hear a chainsaw in its spasmodic ripping and I wonder which neighborhood tree is being trimmed or taken down. Many of us move to a place like Ojai for the peace and quiet, to perhaps escape the drone of traffic and scream of sirens. But Ojai has lots of trees and trees must be trimmed. And trees drop leaves. Thus, to live in Ojai is to live with the ambient sounds of leaf blowers, chainsaws and shredders.
Last week my mornings were subject to the horrible grind of a chipper, the kind of machine that can reduce an entire tree limb to mulch in seconds. This particular grinding took two days, as the tree that was evidently unwanted by new owners was chipped into oblivion. It occurred to me that we have come to live with the near constant squeal and grind of machines as a natural background to our days. I am as guilty as my neighbor, as every-other Thursday morning a fellow comes to mow and blow my yard. And, in turn, each of my neighbors has their mornings, whether they hire it out or not. It seems I have just come to notice it because I spend more time at home these days.
I have always been adverse to the whine of machinery. Although I know that I should turn on the fan when I shower, I don’t. I just wipe the fogged mirror after. When I light the laundry room, the fan automatically engages. I grab the dried laundry and escape to fold it on the bed. For the whine of a fan makes me feel oddly anxious, a feeling that does not let me fully or deeply breathe. Electric saws send shivers up my spine. The scream of small bore motorcycles make me wince like fingernails on a blackboard. I even have to slightly steel myself for the coffee grinder. I can’t even tell you how I loathe the drill of a dentist. No amount of nitrous oxide seems to assuage that feeling. Why these sounds cause me anxiety is curious. I could just say they’re irritating, but it is more. There is some aspect of my inner being that is disturbed by high pitched engines. They grate some internal rhythm. They certainly shatter the peace of a morning in the garden. (What ever happened to rakes?)
Many years ago I lived on the Pacific Coast Highway, falling asleep most nights to the sound of the waves. But there was also a lot of traffic on the coast. After a couple of years, there was hardly a discernible difference between the roll of the waves and the rush of the cars passing. Both became soothing. So perhaps there are neighbors who are relaxed and soothed by the daily whine of blowers and the rattles of chainsaws….but I doubt it. Perhaps the machines have simply become the ambient sounds of our lives, like people who live each day with the TV on…it all becomes white noise.
As I wrote this to the hum of distant blowers, they suddenly stopped…. My yard was silent…. It was almost distracting. Then a squirrel began to yammer in the oak above me. His chatter was not unlike a small machine.