David Bouchier: Spring Chorus

May 7, 2018

This happens every spring. Our quiet life in the suburbs becomes a total audio-visual experience. From my window I can see the signals that nature thoughtfully provides for anyone without a calendar. The daffodils are almost done, the trees are leafing out nicely, and the bird feeders are busy. But the background music is not bird song but the roar of machinery.

The sound effects of spring are turned up full volume. The men of the neighborhood, released into the outdoors by warmer weather, have rediscovered their machines. Nothing makes the suburban male feel happier or more masculine than the roar and stink of a two-cycle engine. Almost any kind of machine will do: a chainsaw, a leaf blower, a drill, a mower, a pump. The point is to make enough noise to let your neighbors know that you’re here, fully loaded with testosterone, and fully dedicated to making their lives intolerable.

The small, air cooled two-cycle gas engine is extraordinarily efficient. It produces more noise and pollution for the buck than any other device—although for a really excruciating pitch, the high-speed electric motor runs at a close second. If it is true, as H.G. Wells wrote, that our machines have made us into gods, we are unnecessarily noisy gods, like some of the more rambunctious Roman deities. Any man, no matter how modest his condition, can make his mark on the neighborhood with a leaf blower, a weed eater, or a shredder: like Jupiter or Vulcan, he can be heard. Men may hate the yard work, but they love the noise it makes.

Husbands who have to go out to work, and so leave their patch of suburbia unnaturally silent, can call in a lawn service. They have even noisier machines, mowers big enough to harvest the prairies, and super hurricane-power three-hundred decibel blowers. On a fine day, several lawn services will converge on our neighborhood and run all their machines together, like a chorus from some mechanical hell. The concert never stops. After May Day, afternoon naps are a thing of the past.

The National Institute of Health reports that ten million Americans have hearing loss caused by too much noise. The Environmental Protection Agency has introduced progressive regulations for quieter and less polluting engines on garden machinery. But those regulations will probably be cancelled now, if they haven’t been already.

In any case laws won’t help. Making noise is one of those inalienable rights, like the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps it is the pursuit of happiness. If the issue gets to the Supreme Court, they will certainly rule in favor of the noise makers, even if they have to yell the judgment at the tops of their voices.

It is hard to fight back without making things worse. I’ve considered setting up some powerful outdoor speakers, the way the South Koreans do on their border with the north, and broadcasting a kind of counter-propaganda—perhaps some of the louder Beethoven symphonies played at full volume. In politics the loudest voice in the room always wins, and in our leafy suburbs it’s the loudest machine on the block. You can see why more sensitive people escape to unpopulated places like Montana, where the men can blast away with their guns in peace.

Copyright: David Bouchier