Saturday, August 21, 2010

Silent Songbird

I’m a rare bird and not ashamed of it. And since birds of a feather flock together, my friends tend to be rare birds too. One rare birdism we share is, we think about our impact on earth and her people in regard to sustainability, noise, pollution, and consideration. In a word, respect. We know we’re not the only ones who matter, and tread lightly.

I feel deeply sorry for Earth. Like the old woman who lived in a shoe, she is providing for more human life than she is comfortably capable of sustaining, and her population is expected to keep growing. Each person in 1994 needed 1.2 acres to maintain American dietary standards, acreage that relates to food production.

But what about fresh water? (I won’t even get into oil consumption here.) Glaciers are melting, so we can sip off them, but what do human, animal, and plant lives drink after all our fresh water has been polluted or drunk and there’s nothing falling from the sky but ash?

Earth needs to go on a people diet and not have so many, not only because of sustainability but for our hearts. When Mother Nature binges, she swallows large numbers of Earth’s beings. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, storms of all kinds consume lives, and the more densely populated the area of impact, the more heartfelt tragedy we experience. That includes the tragedy of hunger from human overproduction. Fortunately, researchers and medical professionals have diligently worked to reduce deaths due to disease, so farmers no longer have to supply their families with more help.

Densely populated areas also means concentrated noise pollution. Though I lead a quiet life, it doesn’t suit everyone. There are TVs and electronic games to fill quiet spaces, dogs to bark how dreadful their lives are, vehicles creating tension and shouting for attention with other machines, sirens, and incessant chatter. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person affected by noise, but reading The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book about Noise by Garret Keizer, I felt less lonely.

“I was raised with a keen awareness of noise. As a child I was told ‘Keep your voice down’ whenever my voice was likely to disturb ‘the neighbors.’ When my family came home late…my father would insist that we latch the car doors as quietly as possible and then press them fully closed. This taboo against slamming a car door at night was part of a code whereby holding down a job and getting oneself to work on time were sacred.… Interfering with a neighbor’s sleep was something akin to horse thievery on the old frontier, as assault on another person’s livelihood, a hanging offense.”

What happened to the common courtesy of honoring another with respectful quiet?

When I had my baby, I purchased the quietest vacuum cleaner—a Panasonic, bought a push lawn mower, and played my music quietly in honor of her hearing. I had quit watching the tube in 1975, but bought one at age 35 so my daughter could watch Disney sing-alongs. And when two friends each wanted to gift me with a “real” mower, I passed. Sure it’s more difficult to have a perfectly manicured lawn with a push mower, and I have to pass over each blade of grass four times, but my posterior is a lot firmer than gas-blower pushers’.

Again, I am not the only one who likes quietness and thinks about noise’s impact on others. Noise Pollution Clearinghouse tested more than 80 pieces of lawn equipment, rating them by decibels. Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone mowed his lawn on the same day at the same time, so we would hear only one blended, powered blade noise?

What if we were all thoughtful of each other? Takes me back to the sixties “peace, make love (using contraception), not war, smoke this” culture. I’m not a liberal, but I’d certainly welcome a lot of peace.

I recently read “Revolutionary Road” in Smithsonian magazine. David Lamb wrote a story about Vietnam now and during the war. He quotes Le Minh Khue, who at 15 joined other Vietnamese youths helping to clean up immediately after war’s devastation. She talks about the bond these kids shared and says she “felt completely happy,” despite burying the dead, filling bomb craters, and ending each day covered in mud.

Khue recalls the kindness people shared with each other. “We came upon a mother and two children with no food. They were very hungry. We offered to give her some of our rice, and she refused. ‘That rice,’ she said, ‘is for my husband who is on the battle field.’ That attitude was everywhere. But it’s not there anymore. Today people care about themselves, not each other.”

Birds of a feather… Let’s quietly ruffle some feathers. Breathe deeply and silently smile. Open a door for someone and accept thanks with a namasté. Still your soul and turn something off when you’re not using it…even your mind.

Now that is something I am still working on.

1 David Pimentel, Cornell University,
Mario Giampietro, Istituto of Nazionale della Nutrizione, Rome. “Food, Land, Population, and the U.S. Economy.”
Nov. 21, 1994. (accessed 8/12/10). (Carrying Capacity Network, 2000 P Street, N.W., Suite 240 Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 296-4548.)
2 Garret Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book about Noise (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010), 11.
3 Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “Quiet Lawns,” NPC Special Report (summer 2005),
4 David Lamb, “Revolutionary Road,” Smithsonian (March 2008), 62.

1 comment:

  1. Common courtesy isn't so common anymore.

    My recycling can consistently has more in it than my trash can.

    Even though you're a rare bird, I say "well done".


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