Silence in the Garden

Silence in the Garden
Garden Under Construction
All Quiet in the West

Not long ago I talked about the spaciousness of silence and examined the notion that silence is becoming a luxury good. At the time, my thoughts were primarily focussed on the intrusion of clamorous advertising into spaces that were once quiet such as doctor’s rooms, train stations and supermarkets. But I recently had the misfortune to notice that the intrusion of unwanted noise can be a source of displeasure at home too in the form of car alarms, leaf blowers, and “doof-doof” music. Especially the leaf blowers…  Silence in the garden is lost too.

Sometimes we are very fortunate because our brains can become desensitised to certain kinds of noise.  It’s called habituation.  It means that you cannot help but hear something new and strange, like a tap dripping at night, but once you have identified the noise you can easily ignore it.  The best sounds for habituation are steady and regular like air-conditioning.

The spoken word can be very hard to screen out, especially if you understand the language being spoken – you can’t just not listen.  Unless it’s a quiet murmur in the background like you commonly get in offices. This is partly because when we speak, most of us vary the volume, pitch and rhythm so there isn’t that background monotony.  (Personally, I find that some kinds of British documentaries are excellent for putting me to sleep on a Sunday afternoon after a rather large roast dinner).  But is also explains why you can’t help but notice when whatever supermarket has an annoying nah-nah-nah-nah lyric and super deals on sliced bread, or that so-and-so is cheating on such-and-such.  It’s irritating.

Sometimes power tools can be ignored, but they way that most people use them gives them variations in pitch, rhythm and volume that also make them hard to screen out.  On the one hand, that’s great because it means that people are unlikely to injure themselves when they loosen their grip on the trigger, but on the other it gives the tools an unpredictable variation, particularly when they are waved about.  Like leaf blowers…

Anyway, we had some lovely gardening weather here over the weekend – we southerners are in the tail end of Autumn, preparing our gardens for Winter while you northerners are preparing for Spring.  This is our time of year for pruning, planting, transplanting and mulching, for bringing the garden into order for its long hibernation. And my chance to start wearing my navy and white striped wellies again!

We had a good start to the day – we were up early, and after a lovely big bacon and egg breakfast, out working in the garden.  It was warm in the sun and as the street was gently sleeping, we chatted quietly as we knelt side by side weeding the garden beds and waiting for our topsoil delivery.  On time!!!  And then as we took a break for a mug of fresh brewed coffee and quiet enjoyment of our achievements the street stretched out its arms and came to life.

Many real estate agreements include the concept of “quiet enjoyment”.  That the landlord agrees not to disturb the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of a rental property, perhaps through formal scheduled inspections, making sure that required repairs are made promptly, and so on.  Sounds a bit legal, but things like smoke alarms and faulty heating systems are things that are counted as actionable breaches in some jurisdictions.

Anyway, as I say, the street came to life.  The bloke over the road got out his chainsaw and started cutting his trees down.  Someone over the back started up with an angle grinder.  Someone else got out their leaf blower.  And another with a lawn mower.  Someone down the street with a nail gun, someone else with a drill.  It’s sad and kind of frightening how easy it is to identify modern noises, but not bird calls.

And so it went on.  When they guy over the road finished with his trees, he got started with his lawnmower, and then onto his leaf blower.  And every time he turned off his tool and we started to relax, he started up again.  And just like the audio advertising discussed lasted time, it effectively ended any conversation we might have had.  Except of course when we overheard him telling someone who tried to park outside the front of his house that the street tree was dropping branches (not true by nature or by his hand) and suggesting they park elsewhere.

And when I say “finished with the trees”, I just mean for the day – he’s cut down four and there are five left (to go?).

I know it is really amazing how much you can get done in a couple of hours with a few power tools, but all day?  Should you put eight or more hours of noise into a residential street?  Is there a point where a job is so big you should get a tradesman to come out during the week (when no one is home) instead?

When you think about your relationships with the people in your street, they include the unspoken agreement that you grant each other the quiet enjoyment of your own property.  This manifests in local agreement zones, that include things like don’t:

  • turn your power tools on until after 10am
  • let your dogs bark for a long time, especially at your neighbours
  • comment on things yelled by neighbours during their backyard arguments
  • complain about random parties (and don’t let your own go on all morning as well as all night)
  • complain about party goers parking outside your house

So today I am asking, is it unreasonable for me to be irritated by eight hours of power tools on a Sunday?  This could have been going on through our recent Supernatural marathon and we wouldn’t have cared.  But it was excellent gardening weather, and while there were many houses working outdoors, only one of them with power tools all day.  Or am I just becoming the local cranky old dog lady?


  1. Karen says:

    Hey Alex, I enjoy your blog….and in this case I think that maybe you are being a little bit “cranky dog lady”. Not all of us can afford trades people and most people are working full time and the weekend is the only time that is left to do some maintenance around the house. It is a shame your neighbor left this until the Sunday, but he may have been busy with family commitments and only had one precious (sunny) day to do the many jobs that build up when you are busy. I know you guys built a deck not long ago…did you use power tools then? We are often busy socially on the weekends, so I make sure I leave one day out of the weekend for my husband to catch up on the leaf blowing, tree trimming, lawn mowing, house repairing…..all of which are noisy jobs requiring power tools etc. With the days getting shorter, he probably makes noise from 10am to 4pm…but this one day a week is very crucial in the home maintenance required when you live in the leafy part of the world known as “The Hills”……
    Just my opinion in response to your question 🙂

    • Alexandria says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Karen, I am almost definitely “cranky old dog lady”. I was thinking that while I am not particularly religious, my early training kept Sunday as stay at home family day. Perhaps my new neighbour is from one of those cultures/religions that hold [errand day] Saturday as sacred, and therefore has no option. And perhaps when the remaining five trees are cut down silence will once again reign supreme. We did use power tools on the deck, but we also adhered to the 10am – 4pm time zone and allowed plenty of time for breaks. Maybe our best option is to get him over to do our tree trimming as well?

  2. Karen says:

    I love your solution! I agree – get him over to cut your trees too and maybe blow some leaves for you too…lol…. Oh, and not so much of the old…you aren’t an old lady yet..

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