Chapter Forty-Seven: Peace and Quiet

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Tuesday 24 July 2007 - Overcast in the morning, clear in the afternoon. Calm, moderate humidity. Low 58.6, high 79.3F. Some deerflies; few fireflies.We were indoors much of the day, listening to Senate hearings on the radio. I walked out to our pad and back in the evening. I stood out on our pad for about five minutes. In that time, I heard one bird chirp a couple times. No planes, no wind, no motors, no nothing. My ears weren't even ringing noticeably! When we couple the 'wildlife doldrums' (the seasonal slowdown of animal activity) with the usual solitude here, the quiet of this place is amazing."

Various items of family business kept us from going to New Hampshire in 2008, the first time since 1994 that we haven't spent half the year there, and only the third or fourth year since 1969 that I haven't been at Camp for at least a week or two. I missed being there because I missed doing the things I do when I'm at Camp - hiking around our property, bird watching, mowing the field, sawing and stacking firewood, picking and preserving elderberries, listening to the coyotes howl, and even cursing the blackflies, deerflies, and mosquitoes. But I missed it even more for something that I don't give much conscious thought to, something that perhaps I haven't realized how important it was to me: the quiet.

Here in Oregon, we live "in town," but we're near the far edge of the metropolitan area and not really on the beaten path to anywhere in particular within the city. The lots are large, there are still quite a few big trees and a variety of parks and open spaces, and automobile traffic in our neighborhood is mostly just us and our neighbors. All winter long - with relatively few hours of daylight, with work and the weather keeping people from doing much outdoors, and with the doors and windows often shut - about the only noise we hear is the noise we make, ourselves. When we leave for Camp (usually in early May), spring has just barely sprung and outdoor activities are still minimal. A week and a half later in New Hampshire, it's certainly quieter than it was at home - different enough for me to remark on it. I like it, I appreciate it, but I pretty much take it for granted once we get there.

So, picture me last summer in our "quiet" neighborhood in Oregon. As soon as the lawns had grown a quarter-inch, the mowers started up, and from May through September there seemed hardly an hour of any day when someone wasn't mowing nearby. Everybody had gas-powered mowers (I have a relatively quiet battery-powered one), most of the machines seemed to be without mufflers, and our neighbor directly across the street apparently had his rigged with an old Allis-Chalmers aircraft engine. Dogs barked from before dawn until after dark. Kids yelled, laughed, and cried. Cars drove up and down our street at all hours, often with the bass on their radios thunderous enough to pulsate inside the house. Another neighbor - a very nice, considerate man, really - revved up his motorcycle several times a day, and let it run awhile until it warmed up. Airliners on approach to Portland International flew past at low elevation, apparently picking a spot directly over our house to begin putting on the "air brakes." National Guard jets, grounded by weather for most of the winter, streaked by several times a day, just barely keeping from breaking the sound barrier and creating real sonic booms over us. Within a few weeks, I had become the proverbial "nervous wreck," and I wondered how I would ever survive there until October. While I fumed, fretted, and was generally unhappily miserable, everybody around me seemed to take it in stride. What to me was a cacophony of sound was apparently just normal background noise to them. I did not want to spend another summer in our "quiet neighborhood."

Of course, I realize that my kind of "peace and quiet" would drive many people crazier than the noise of a suburban neighborhood drives me. Constant sound has been the norm for so many generations that quiet seems somehow threatening. Have people in general become like the cowboys in the movies riding herd at night, who feel (correctly, as the next few minutes of the movie bear out) that "too quiet" means danger, that they are about to be attacked by cattle rustlers, Indians, or mountain lions? Maybe so. But, if it wasn't "too quiet," I'd never hear the gray tree frogs whooping it up far down in the woods along Cedar Brook. I'd never hear our occasional whip-poor-will, coyotes howling, a raccoon screaming, or the horned owl whose hoots are so soft and low-pitched that they are more a sensation than a real sound. I'd never hear the evening freight train, five miles away in West Milan, blow its horn an unusual number of times, probably to warn a moose (or Andrew's old deaf hound) off the railroad tracks. "Too quiet" may sometimes yield sounds I really don't want to hear, like trucks driving in our road at one in the morning (poachers or joy riders, who probably don't even know there's a cabin at the end of that rocky trail - never a real danger to us, but always a little disconcerting when one is so far from any kind of assistance). Even then, I'd rather hear them coming than first discover them outside our door.

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January 2014 - When I wrote this essay originally, this was how I finished it:

"We probably don't have many more years to spend at Camp. Time marches on, and the trip there seems a lot harder at 70 than it did at 55. Since Sally suffered a stroke, the 'simple life' is not quite so simple to live, either. If I outlive my ability to get my 'peace and quiet' in New Hampshire, I'm going to need some other way to escape summer in the City. I hope I can come up with something more esthetic than ear plugs."

As it turned out, our "peace and quiet" time in the North Country came to a quick end. We've been here in Oregon year around for going on fifteen years, now. As happens with almost everything in life, we adapt, and I'm still here and still relatively sane. If I'm honest, I can't say that I miss everything about Camp; the trip back and forth, and the ruggedness of life there, was getting hard for me. But, God, I do miss The Quiet!!

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