As I walked around this evening, out again with the intent to purposefully notice my surroundings, I became acutely aware of the noise that surrounds me. The neighborhood hums with machinery, electricity’s high pitched whine, and the roar of generators. Even inside the room where I now sit, a machine drones away on the other side of the wall. Even at rest, the world here whirs.
What if this sound took on life in a different form and became color? Imagine what that world would look like, or any world where sound became color, as if synesthesia were possible for a day. What would different things we see become if they were sound? Would we respond to noise differently than we do now?
The way we view a place is, in part, the associations we have with the sound. I will always remember my months at Lincoln College, Oxford for the bells that rang through the city in the evening. I will remember Izmir, Turkey for the peddlers walking down the street calling out “Aygaz,” followed by a dinging bell, and Izmir, again, for the mosque calls ringing through the cannoned walls of apartments in the morning’s early hours like a thousand voices calling out all at once.
When I return to my home in Santa Cruz, I am always stunned by the purity of the silence at night, in the morning, and how it seems to flood over me like a blessing, my whole body giving itself to a quietness so beautiful, so rare and set aside from other experiences of places I know that it feels I enter into a kind holy space–my whole body sighing in a kind of inner relief.
But of course sound can be more than noise. It can also be beautiful–the voice of the ones we love is always a sound that resonates in our hearts with happiness, and what could be a better antidote to noise than that sound which is like music?
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Franco Corelli’s voice as I was looking up “Torna a Surriento.” What a magnificent presence his voice has–rich with the intensity and depth of life that wells up from the longing in the soul that opera evokes so well, bringing the listener totally inside the moment of the sound rising from the singer’s body. Here is Corelli singing “O Pase d’ ‘o Sole.”
The noise of the world only makes sound and silence all the more precious.
What do you hear today? What are the sounds around you telling you?
It’s a beautiful day here in Santa Cruz, California. The sun shines off the oak trees as I sit in front of the post office, observing the wonderful kinetic sculpture at the front of the mall, Santa Cruz’s main downtown street, with its silvery wheels inside of wheels spinning, turning, and reflecting the morning sun coming down. If you stand at the ocean’s edge on West Cliff Drive, you can see 50 miles across the bay to Monterrey. Further up the coast you can walk along the cliffs near Wilder Ranch and stare out past the waves into the plain of stretching water and the fabulous sense of freedom it evokes.
I’m sure that people love the towns and counties they live in for a variety of reasons. Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to live and to spend time. Something I especially love about the area is the wide variety of people here. The town has a strong sense community, and you can also enjoy diverse outdoor activities in the area: hiking, kayaking, surfing, biking. I love books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz in downtown Santa Cruz, with its wide variety of reading choices, is a fantastic place to while away several hours. Also, the presence of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College offer additional character and interest to the town. Shakespeare Santa Cuz is held every year at UCSC, and Cabrillo College has its music festival. Additionally, there are many choices of restaurants to try and several farmers markets to buy locally grown food.
Temperatures in the area tend to be mild–not too hot, and not too cold. The mountains with redwoods are only minutes from the beach, allowing for micro climates and micro plant communities as well. As you can see, there are many things to like about this town, but there are things to like about many places. Delhi has it’s historical monuments and ancient history. Japan, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Zimbabwe–the list could go on and on, all have amazing monuments and each their unique beauty, so, what is it that bonds me in particular to this location? I think it is my connection to and interaction with the natural world here. Wild sweet peas and California poppies shine their sunny faces along the roadsides, oaks dot the hillsides and grassy meadows, redwoods grow in the hills 15 minutes inland from the beach. Their presence is something that has grown in importance to me over the years The trees on my land seem almost like part of my family. I love to stand in the yard and suddenly smell their enigmatic perfume drifting by. When you visit a place, it may be beautiful, but you’re just passing through. When you repeatedly come back to a place or live in an area, you see it in all it’s moods. It grows inside of you and becomes part of the geography of your soul.
More than this, I am working on the land here, getting my hands in the soil, digging, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting fruit, herbs, and vegetables from the garden. Bit by bit the garden grows, and I am watching as plants surprise me, like the red flame grape that is taking over the arbor and currently has a hundred clusters of grapes on it, and the blue berries that have given us several bowls full of fruit since arriving home. They are beautiful to see in the morning with the dew gathering on their dusty blue fruit. The sun shines through the grape leaves, and they glow like stained glass. Each plant has its own character and habit, and as I work with them and care for them, I learn from them. I previously felt bad about cutting back the lavender, for example, but now that I have, it is growing more profusely and seems much happier, making me think that a limitless pruning might be good for all of us at certain times, whether that means minimizing our possessions according to what no longer helps us become our best selves, or learning self-control, not giving in to all of our desires, again, so that we can be more of the person we most want to be in the long run–the bigger picture of our lives.
At night here in the Soquel hills just south of Santa Cruz, a myriad of stars illuminate the sky. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be so enveloped in nature as I am when I am here, to constantly be aware of the earth’s gifts, to be able to walk out on to the earth instead of a sidewalk, to be able to smell the air’s sweetness–air without smoke or chemicals. It seems a miracle here every day in my home county. I suppose if you lived here every day you might start to think that this is the way the earth is. In reality, I think places like this, communities that still have open space and nature around them are becoming more rare. Living in a place that allows me too connect with nature on a daily basis feeds my spirit, brings me a sense of peace and renewal, and is deeply satisfying. Maybe this is because I grew up in a rural area and it is part of the geography of my soul, something I long for after living in so many large cities in my adult life. Is it the same for others? What connects you to the place you live?