There’s a black mutt rolling around on the carpet, a bone from her collection under her back to provide the scratch that springtime requires for most critters. Gulls screeching in my airspace outside are hurling insults at the doves who are just trying to be heard by their significant others. I can hear motorcycles out on 24 making sure that anyone in a 75-mile radius can hear them. I’m told by motorcycle riders, who ought to know, that there is a safety reason for the exhaust volume from their bikes. It is to protect their wives at home from being sneaked up upon, thus preventing expensive divorces and possible crimes of passion.
This being the first really warm spring day, it is too early to have the A/C fan humming in the background, but there are many other household noises that, most days, go unnoticed. Unfortunately, the racket from the fridge is not among the unnoticed. I’ve always hated that thing, but it works. It also churns and vibrates with occasional loud clunks and rattles as new ice hits the plastic ice container in the door, followed by the whoosh of a firehose filling a swimming pool as another batch of noisy ice is readied for freezing. The ice machine in the hall of any Super 8 motel makes less noise.
A lobster boat chugs up the bay to the chime of the ship’s clock in my living room. The bells tell me that I have again missed the opportunity for a nap, as it is nearly time to feed the smaller living things that share my home. Breaking through the ambient not-so-silence are a backup beeper from somewhere and the noise of a car being remotely locked by someone who doesn’t know us very well. I’d wager that the plates on the car are New Jersey or someplace much like it. The OBI emergency wagon is in a hurry and drowns out all but the motorcycles. Not a good day for someone and I say a silent prayer.
Up on our roof, a chimney stands proudly, showing off its shiny, stainless steel chimney cap. Designed to prevent access to the flue by varmints, feathered and furry, it does the job well. So far. But there is a determined woodpecker visiting the chimney every few days and it must see this structure as a challenge, or perhaps it got some bad advice from “The Woodpecker’s Guide to Banging Holes in Stuff With Your Head.” Inside the house, the sound is exactly that of a GE minigun being fired in the attic. Normally mounted on military assault craft, this one is mounted on my chimney. Fortunately for this bird, there is a dearth of woodpecker recipes in my copy of “Joy of Cooking.”
Now and then a helicopter beats by overhead. The app on my cellphone shows it most often is a LifeFlight chopper going to or from Bangor and Portland. On some days several of these helicopters are active, with two or more in the air at once. We’ve come a long way from the days of having to wait on the farm for Doc Adams to show up in his buggy. Still, I don’t hear those choppers without thinking of their pilots, caregivers and cared for.
On a breezy day, the flag flying from the porch column snaps in the wind. It’s a slow beat to the rhythm of the wind but always reminds me of the constant whipping of the flag flying from the mast on a Sumner-class destroyer underway in a February storm in the North Atlantic. Some sounds get tattooed on your memory and others get put away like the photos of your second cousin’s wedding. I have the ship’s bell from the bridge of that ship. In my garage it sounds just as sweet and clear as it did in the North Atlantic.
Silence is an illusion here. Without the birds, helicopters, appliances, boats, pets, vehicles and snapping flags, there remains the sound of home. Beyond the ringing in my ears and the gastric audio performances there is the sound of Harpswell and, specifically, the islands. It is the lapping of waves on rocks and skiff bottoms, the slapping of kelp and rockweed on the ledges, the bell buoy in the fog. It is the salty wind in my ears.
It is the sound of home. But be prepared; with Memorial Day around the corner, home is about to get noisy and stay that way for a while.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.