A Little Quiet Please?

They’re all heading more or less towards the west right now. It so happens that Newfoundland is right along the path of most transatlantic flights between North America and Europe. There are a lot of them. All day long, no matter where you are in our sparsely-populated place all you have to do is look up. Chances are you will spot at least one flight and generally three to five are visible at any given times, assuming there’s no cloud cover, of course. But you always hear them.

Screen grab taken from image generated by flightradar24.com around 2pm on May 7, 2013. Image shows current air traffic over Newfoundland Canada.

Screen grab taken from image generated by flightradar24.com around 2pm on May 7, 2013. Image shows current air traffic over Newfoundland Canada.

Another screen grab from flightradar24 showing info on the Airbus that overflew--and which also inspired this post.

Another screen grab from flightradar24 showing info on the Airbus that overflew–and which also inspired this post.

As I type this, sitting on my back deck a somewhat noisy Airbus 330 just overflew St. John’s making its way from Manchester to Orlando, the passengers no doubt eagerly anticipating a few days in the hot sunshine. I checked: it’s currently 21 C in Manchester and 24 C in Orlando so maybe the change will not be as pronounced as expected but, I suppose there’s always the great Craft Beer Festival on the 11th, something I’d even consider hitchhiking down to see…after all it wouldn’t do to drive, it being a BEER festival and all. Here’s another, this time a Delta 767 from Paris heading to NY. That one was fairly quiet; I barely heard it.  It never stops.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the temperature here is 19 C and, yes, I’m out on the deck and, yes, it’s supposed to be a work day. So why am I here? Retired? No, not until after August. Sick? Yes, sort of. It’s a cold. Not a man-cold, mind you, just one with enough symptoms to make me heed the same admonition I give to co-workers who insist on martyring themselves, “Why didn’t you just stay home and keep your germs to yourself?” Well I did. There’s nothing much stopping me from working—I am in eLearning after all—except for a general disposition not to do so today.

So out here on the deck it is just me, this laptop, Two and his book.

And the sounds! There’s a bit of a breeze; there always is. It’s stirring the trees behind the house. Spruce and fir mostly so they always present a barrier and the resulting turbulence gives an ever present swish; the background noise to my life here. It being mid-day the birds are relatively quiet, only the odd one here and there. You should hear them in the mornings and evenings, though! No squirrels right now. I’m thankful that those “rats with cute little tails” are not so plentiful as they have this thing about my shed, the contents within it and, of course the recycling. But then again, this is their planet too and they wouldn’t be this close if the developer was not on the other side of the hill busily putting houses everywhere he can cram them in.

Those sounds too: hammers, saws, excavators, trucks. Fortunately the trees and the hill do a decent job of muffling them. Not entirely though.

And the road; a few hundred metres away, through the trees and down the hill lies the always-busy Kenmount Road. Lots of traffic now; it’s constant, so much so that all you really hear when you listen are the punctuation marks: sirens, Jake Brakes and, my least favourite, Crotch Rockets. On days when the road is wet it gets louder, of course.

Sometimes it gets annoying. The sounds of nature are always welcome but the other ones, the sounds of industry/civilization, not always so.

But this is Newfoundland and Labrador after all. We are sparsely populated—three times the size of Great Britain and less than one present of the population. It’s not hard at all to get away from the normal sights of civilization. I could, for example, just enter the woods behind my house or, better still, climb into the forest on Kenmount Hill. There I might even spy one of those moose or maybe even those elusive loons I’ve been looking for.

There would still be the unwanted sounds, though. The construction and the cars—there’s no escaping them within the confines of the city.

Fine. I could instead just go in the car and maybe take one of the many side roads that wind for kilometres into the country, maybe even the old railway bed.

Still sounds. The old roads are a haven for the many off-road enthusiasts who love tearing through the back-roads on their quads, dirt-bikes, expensive four-wheel-drive trucks and, in the winter, snowmobiles. And the builders—there’s scarcely a road where they can’t be found building a cabin (you probably refer to them as cottages) for someone.

We still have an out, though. This province is immense and, yes, under-developed. I can easily just take one of those quads or a boat and head out there to where there’s nobody at all. How’s that? From there you can get the birds, the animals the wind and, if you want, the ocean sounds too.

But wait—the airplanes! Right now there’s a giant Air France Airbus 380 heading from Paris to New York. When it’s gone there’ll be another, and then another. It never ends.

What has ended is the existence of true quiet spaces in my province. And, no, the sounds are not always that bad—modern high-bypass jet engines are much quieter than the ones they’ve replaced. It’s just that they all serve as a constant reminder that there are very few places of true solitude left on our planet.

This evening there will be a lull then slowly the traffic will build again. All night long they will be heading east, back to Europe.


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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31 Responses to A Little Quiet Please?

  1. I was in Gander when I was a kid and remember it just being very grey with lots of rain. I would like to do a camping trip in the summer and take the ferry over. Newfoundland has so much untouched natural beauty that I do want to explore.

    • It is truly beautiful in the summer especially. And the smells! By the ocean there’s always that salty tang that always, to me at least, smells vaguely of fresh-cooked lobster. When you go inland you get first the smells of the evergreens and then the even more intense smells from the wetlands and marshes.
      …and yes, notwithstanding the jets it’s still relatively quiet.

  2. I understand completely! My house has a lovely screen porch off the back that I adore. But every time I sit out there, I am distracted (a polite word) by the traffic, the neighbor’s sawing, the…quieter inside, but what a shame is that!

    • It is a shame. As an aside I have a pair of drummers’ earmuffs that I wear when I want to drown out the din. They’re particularly good when i want to read–I am very easily distracted by anything. As you might expect I also take great pains to not let others see me with them on too much :>)

  3. Gosh, I do feel for you. It seems particularly unfair to live somewhere so sparsely populated and yet to have to suffer such a lot of noise pollution. It was one of the things that I hoped to escape from when I emigrated and I’m sat here right now, up my hill in northern Spain and all I can hear, is the tweeting of birds at twilight. And the tapping of my own fingers on this keyboard. We do have the occasional car go past, but very few, and otherwise the only possible offender for noise pollution is the tinkling of cow bells. But I rather like that.

    • Cow bells I can handle! It’s still not that bad here. Those jets are in full flight, typically between 30,000 to 40,000 feet, so it’s just the simple fact that they are there at all that is a bit of a bother. And yes, I am spoiled but the simple fact is that the solitude and peace is pretty much 100% of why I am where I am.

  4. jennypellett says:

    When all aircraft over our part of Europe was grounded because of the ash cloud a couple ofyears ago there was an eerie quietness everywhere. We’re between London’s two major airports so the usual constant drone over our skies must act as white noise that we generally don’t consider. The stillness was wonderful!

  5. elkement says:

    Great post – noise is underrated, because you get accustomed to it. But when the noise suddenly disappears you notice how quiet feels.
    Sometimes I say I learned to disengage after having worked in an open space office for some years – but I believe I underestimate the subtle influence of noise. What I hate most while working is having radion on all the time – I can’s understand that some people seem to “need” it, but it is quite common in larger office or other working places.

  6. Jane Fritz says:

    Very nicely done. I loved the way you kept having the flights come back into the equation. We also have more than our fair share of noise pollution, ironically far more than our sons in Ottawa and Toronto. But I wouldn’t trade. And bravo for being able to sit out on our decks in early May. Enjoy it while it lasts!

  7. Sounds like you need a vacation Maurice … somewhere away from everything. There are indeed places where silence and solitude may be found. We took a trip to the west coast a few years ago to visit the tall trees near Crescent City in California. Sounds like the place for you. We have a bit of your noise problem here in the woods of Pennsylvania … mostly 4-wheelers and chain saws … I resonate with Elke’s comment about how strange it feels when the sounds finally subside – sweet release. And there’s a feel of positive feedback in our reactions too … don’t you think? We hear noise and get upset, which somehow increases our sensitivity to the noise which causes us to get more upset and so on … ! Hang in there … this too shall pass. D

    • Thanks. Funny, though how a little quiet reflection reveals the complexity of the sound layers. I’ve done this many times: go to a ‘quiet’ place and then just focus on what you hear. Within a minute you notice that i’s not that quiet at all. Along with the sounds you appreciate during the quiet times, those things I refer to as the sounds of nature, there’s always, layered in there, more of the unwelcome sounds of industry. At those times, even when they’re low they are an unwelcome intrusion. Here’s to logarithmic scales!

  8. bluonthemove says:

    I guess it all stems back to when aircraft could only just make the flight. They built an airport at Shannon about as far west as you can get in Ireland and then Gander which I’d imagine is one of the most easterly points of the North American continent that is about the same lattitude.

    It also reflects a desire to fly over land rather than sea where possible. My noise is a train line, but its only noticeable really in the summer when I want to open the windows at the back of the house. Fortuately my house faces west so if its a warm evening I tend to sit out at the front of the house.

    On Christmas Day and Boxing Day no trains run. It dates back from long ago, a perk the unions refuse to give up. I really notice how quiet it is. I often hope for all out train strikes in the summer!!

    • Right you are about Gander. When I was younger and the planes had shorter range almost everything came through it. We referred to the town as “The Crossroads of the World.” Modern aircraft have a much greater range and, so, the two spots are now just shadows of their former selves.

      In NL we gave up on our railway in 1988. It was never much of a commercial success and kept going mainly bouyed up by fed money. By 1988 it was jointly decided enough was enough and we could only afford one primary means of land-based transport. I do recall the trains, though–and not that fondly. To me they were slow and unreliable although many of my fellow NL’r’s would beg to differ! Noisy too. Well I recall it–you could start to hear it when it started to get near Come By Chance (yes, that’s a place) and the rumblings could still be heard until long after it had passed the Lamanche underpass–a total distance of 20 km or so.

  9. Mary says:

    Hope you are feeling better. I remember Mary Barry saying about her visit to Red Island that it was the absolute silence that made the most impression on her.. Perhaps a trip this summer for you:)

  10. bluonthemove says:

    My father’s family were brought up near Killaloe not far from the Co. Tipperary/Co. Limerick border and my Grandfather owned a business in Nenagh, so Shannon is a more familiar stomping ground for me.

    I like trains. Not only are they a very effective way of getting commuters into a city centre, but they are a nice way to journey across Europe, especially now they travel at speeds around 200 mph thats 320 kmph for them who think metric, and you depart right in the middle of the city of your destination.

    • The trains in North America, for the most part, are very much a hold-over from around the 1940s. It’s positively disgraceful! The one exception I would make is the subways which aren’t too bad, all things considered. That;s one thing I really don’t like about life in my province–public transportation is nowhere near up to snuff. The centre of the city does have decent routes but the outlying areas that could really use it…well, consider this. I am about a ten-minute drive from my office at Memorial University. If, however, I wanted to take a metrobus there it would be 1 hour and 40 minutes on two routes that go all over the place first.

  11. Pleased to hear you are staying home when sick and not generously spreading germs around the office. One of my pet gripes that. You are pressurised to go into work, work below par, spread your germs around and affect the efficiency of the whole office, when a few days off would resolve the problem and you would also get better sooner.

    As for 19 where you are, forecast of 29 here today. Bit warm for early May, but who cares?

    Here in Gib, there is always noise. Maybe a few quiet hours in the early morning, depending on whether any late night noisy revellers wander or drive past. Right now, we have a major building conversion going on up the street – construction noise from 8am-7pm. Personally I happen to think that is too long. Eight or nine hours a day is enough for people to suffer, any more hours should be quiet trades only, But this is Gibraltar.

  12. Funny, one man’s noise is another man’s fun. My husband would be able to recognize which planes are what and would give a discourse on each. I notice the Airbus engines tend to whistle – not heard the 380 because Seattle’s runway isn’t strengthened for them to land. I live not too far away from the airport and we hear planes a lot. A lot of it depends on what direction, more when they are taking off to the north. When I hear them put on the thrust reversers, I am suddenly back in a high school classroom. The school was closer to the airport and the engines were a lot noisier. I hear people going up and down the hill in front of the house with their booming hip hop stuff, motorcycles and also loud cars. But lots of times I hear the birds and my neighbor’s fountain across the street. I just sit and watch the view of the Sound and the Olympics – it is always gorgeous.

  13. Tracy says:

    I love reading your blog Maurice. You write with great sensitivity and perception about whatever happens to be going on around you. You paint a picture with words that is as vibrant as those of the best story tellers. For some reason I have always been drawn to the northern climates, the hills and mountains, ice, seaspray and rocky inlets. If it weren’t for the invasion of aeroplanes your location sounds as close to heaven as I could wish for here on our planet. A very good friend of mine lives within a few miles of Heathrow. Her apartment is beautiful as are the surrounding gardens and the river Thames, but the noise… planes start at 4.30am and go throughout the day drowning out all but the most insistent sounds of nature. The Canada geese are one of the only creatures that can make themselves heard about the roar of jet engines. I’m with you, I like a little peace and quiet, I like to hear the tiny sounds of the world around me. Hope your cold is on the way out. We have 10.9 degrees here today… not very Spring-like at all!

    • Thanks for that lovely comment! It’s still morning in NL as I write this and our temperature is much the same as yours: 12 C going to a high, if you can call it that, of 13. But that’s our spring and it’s ok by me. I may have overdone the noise post a bit. The fact is it’s not nearly as bad as I have led you and others to believe. It’s just tjhat my standards are high. There’s no–solvable–reason why we should live in a world that is excessively noisy. Motorcycles, straight from the factory, are whisper quiet. The silly owners pay between $300 and $1200 for the garages to defeat the muffling systems so that older guys (like me) can don leather pants and vests and try to sound and look tough as they drive to the coffee shop for a spot of tea and a biccy. I don’t do that, by the way. Jake Brakes don’t need to be used in cities. Low bypass (noisy) jet engines do not need to exist at all anymore and other noisemakers: lawn mowers, leaf blowers and power tools can all be made much quieter. Only the cheap ones are noisy and, yes, we like cheap. Anyway, down from the soapbox. Here’s a video I took the day after I posted that piece. It was taken lunch time on a typical day and I nipped hope to put some clothes on the line. Nothing like the smell of sir0dried clothes. I took it for the sounds so just listen. You can hear the few things I said: cars, jake brake, jet engine, motorcycle are all there. But so is the wind and some beautiful birds which, unfortunately I could not get on the video.

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