is an endangered species in our society, disappearing, at this point, not in a whisper but in a roar. • In the doctor's office waiting room, Judge Judy frowns down from her television bench and delivers a scolding loud enough to prevent some patients from focusing on their paperbacks. • At the gym, a treadmill jogger, listening to his iPod, sings along at top voice. • In the book store, a guy hollers at his significant other by cell phone, "What are we having for dinner?'' My parents raised me right, so I don't pipe up, "I hope it's poisoned mushrooms.'' • On the way home, my truck begins quaking: The driver of the adjacent hopped-up car just turned on his thousand-dollar stereo. • When I walk into the kitchen, the phone is ringing; caller ID reveals an 800 number from someone who surely wants to sell me something. • My home is in St. Petersburg, a fair-to-middling-sized city, with its share of traffic and sirens. New York, of course, is noisier. The loudest of all cities, in my experience, is Paris, with its astonishing congestion and ear-piercing, night-and-day,
wee-AHH police sirens. But at least you can buy a good croissant.
I have resided in Florida, quietly for the most part, for more than half a century.
As a boy in Miami, we lived in a house without air-conditioning. Through open windows we could hear Charlie and Patricia, the young married couple next door, arguing like George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In the evening, when sounds carried, Mrs. Posner began pounding her piano and singing opera in the house next door to Pat and Charlie.
On Saturday mornings, Mrs. Crespo's washing machine, sloshing and burping only 30 feet from my bedroom, roused me from dreams of Davy Crockett and his worn but reliable musket, Old Betsy. I think of those sounds differently than the sounds of today. In my mind they represent innocence.
There are more of us now, more motor vehicles, more sirens, more narcissists, more cell phones, iPods and stereos, more noisy distractions that tell us, in effect, "Don't even try to relax! Don't even try to think! Listen to me!''
The din didn't happen overnight. It sneaked up on us like light pollution. One day it's the 21st century and you notice you can't see the Milky Way from your backyard anymore.
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It is easy to find solitude — though never silence — in the wilderness.
I love visiting the beach in bad weather to watch the lightning, listen to thunder, hear the roar of the breaking surf, experience the pressure of the wind against my truck's windshield.
In 1965, when I was 16, Hurricane Betsy raged through my South Florida neighborhood. Our house shuddered in the screaming gales. My mom and dad had to yell over the wind to be heard.
In the woods, I hear the cry of a red-tailed hawk as it carries a shrieking squirrel to its hungry chicks waiting in the nest.
Every time I hear a rattlesnake rattle I get goose bumps. A great blue heron, disturbed by my canoe, flaps away from the mangroves squawking like a rusty gate, sounding both put out and disgusted with the human race in general, me in particular.
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It is noisy out in the pine thickets, in the cypress swamp, on the mangrove-lined river. But it is never a rude noisy, and that makes all the difference. It's natural and harmonious noise. It's real.
Once or twice a year someone — often a new Florida resident — telephones and asks, "Is there anything I can do about the frogs in my pond? They're so loud. Even with the windows shut and the air conditioner on I can't hear the TV.''
I'm the nature boy around here. I'm supposed to know such things.
I try to tell my callers about the natural history of amphibians. I try to explain the pig frog's intrinsic value. I avoid asking the obvious: "Why don't you move somewhere else?''
The voices of frog haters grate on my ears like a leaf blower on a Sunday morning.
Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8727.