Morning Sound

Where I grew up, things were quiet. I was raised on an acreage in Northern Alberta, with no immediate neighbours. The only unnatural sounds you could hear would be the odd farming tractor or combine, circling the surrounding canola fields. Or pickup trucks occasionally passing down the gravel road adjacent our property. Or perhaps an airplane soaring far overhead in slow motion, leaving vapour trails that would slowly dissipate from thick white lines into misty smears indistinguishable from clouds.

But you’d wake up, indoors, to almost pure quiet. At best the tweeting of chickadees, or the cackle of magpies or crows. In my teens I later moved down into the basement, encased within the ground with barely any natural light, let alone outer sound. If nobody else were home it could have been a recording studio, or a sensory deprivation space.

A clear and fascinating contrast arose whenever we would travel and stay in a big city, in a big hotel. In a room several stories up above a major urban centre, you wake up differently. To this day I can recall the strange sensation of waking to the sound of a city. Not loud or obnoxious, cars blaring horns at each other in rush hour, nothing like that. It’s a kind of white noise. A gentle, steady sound of steady movement, of dozens of vehicles perpetually moving at city speeds. The cacophonous-yet-hushed blending of so many engines oscillating and tires caressing pavement.

It’s the sound of movement. Of energy, of production. The hustle and the bustle of city life, filtered upward like heat, just barely muffled by the thick glass of a hotel window.

You don’t get that kind of sound outside the city. There aren’t that many birds.

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