Music to My Ears


The Fill is never free from noise. Night or day, the city’s clatter spreads over the area in a continuous wave of constructed sound.

For me, the noise starts as soon as I open my car door in the parking lot east of the Center for Urban Horticulture. Invariably, the first sound I hear is the WHOOSH-wickety-wickety of the CUH’s fan system. In the distance, the thrum of cars over the floating bridge is a constant suspiration, the breath of civilized life for us ever since Henry made a Ford. If you listen closely to the bridge traffic, you can hear an underlying rumble, pitched low like an elephant’s long-speech. The elephants, at least, are communicating. We are merely transporting machine and man from here to there.

Overhead I hear the din of air traffic, a noise I have experienced every single day at the Fill except for one: September 11, 2001. Depending on the wind direction, the Fill is usually on the flight path of the commercial jets flying in and out of Sea-Tac, and their engines are loud. But jets are not the only planes flying by. A surprising number of single-engine Cesnas pass overhead, too, taking folks for a spin, I guess. These planes are much louder than the jets, oddly. Loudest of all is the seaplane that belongs to a local pilot, who docks it near the mansions that line the eastern shore. I timed all the airplanes flying overhead today. One went by every three and a half minutes, on average.

Even more frequent passers-by are the joggers. Joggers, on the whole, don’t make a huge racket, but I can hear them crunching the Loop Trail’s gravel from a hundred meters away. It is a cheerful noise in a way, a reminder that this place is shared by people with many different interests – not all of them birders! – but human noise nonetheless. This morning the joggers turned out early, trying to get their exercise done before the heat of this August day melted them into immobile puddles.

You might think all this hubbub would drown out the quieter sounds of nature, but this is not so. We hear, after all, with our brains even more than with our ears. Just as we can focus our eyes on a particular blade of grass, blocking out all others, we can turn our ears to a particular sound. As we do this, the clamor of our stressful civilization gradually fades away into the distance, and we enter the green symphony of nature.

Here, there is no cacophony. There is only the harmony of bird song, wind sighing through grass, autumn leaves breaking off from their anchor stems with a little crack and drifting down, wavelets lapping against a log, the hum of insects, a beaver’s slapping tail. It is peaceful, beautiful. And it is ours whenever we choose to listen.