Mid-October, the tourists have left (though many have stayed this year), summer is gone, autumn storms begin ramping up to November’s windy and rainy season, between the gusts it becomes easier to hear foghorns, buoy bells, seals and sea lions barking in the night. The coyotes howl without explanation. And as always, great blue herons squawk as they turn an ungainly takeoff into an elegant flight. Thunder introduces the season with rare weather fronts. And then there are outdoor phone calls, practice ranges, and the occasional muffler burps that are sometimes accidental and sometimes purposely produced. It is the quieter season, not the absolutely quiet season.
People talk about indoor voices and outdoor voices. There may also be urban voices and rural voices. Visitors can be known for stepping out of their rental to get some privacy for their phone call, not realizing that they’ve become the noisiest thing in the neighborhood. Sound carries. Stand on one shore and listen to a party a mile away across the water. In town, the level of background noise encourages a bit more volume from people. It can be tough competing with traffic noise, sirens, and thousands of air conditioners, or at this time of year, old-style heat pumps.
Find the right place and the right time and sea gulls can be heard calling the flock together. Geese coordinate flights. Eagles and osprey tussle with sound rather than talons. Even the bird notes quiet as migrations leave the station. The owls are silent, as always; though it would be interesting to see how an animal with such a flexible neck could shake its head at the feathered orchestra. Bats make noise, but not something that most folks can hear.
Of course, backyard chickens are common enough that roosters crowing stand out, waking a neighborhood without neighbors asking for a wake-up call.
And yet, it still seems quieter than mid-summer with its increased traffic, jet skis, even louder parties.
Wait for the gaps. They’re longer than the rest. Stand outside and hear the wildlife maneuver around us and our buildings. Wait a while longer and even those sounds can abate, giving the waves and the tides an opportunity to remind us that the island is surrounded by an extension of an ocean. Twelve foot tidal changes can happen without being noticed, or be mistaken for a distant firehose as the water flows in, or as the world’s largest bathtub that’s had its plug pulled as the tide flows out.
Those natural sounds are easily masked, especially in our civilized world. Some don’t feel comfortable with coyote howls, rooster crows, crows cawing, and those seals barking. For them, maybe that distant party isn’t close enough, the sound of a siren is a relaxing reminder that emergency personnel are on duty, that the traffic is flowing and not bogged down.
As this is being typed, a mix of rain, mist, and fog has settled on the island for the evening. A good night for a crackling fire in the fireplace, maybe a bit of bingewatching (it is 2020, still), or a conversation with friends that can range from sweet intimate moments to laughter loud enough to make the neighbors wonder what was so funny.
It is October, a good time to refresh those quiet-time habits because we have months to go before the rains retreat and the summer returns. Might as well enjoy it.