Binghamton, New York is quiet enough in the summertime, when the city teems with natural life–from woodpeckers to mosquitos. Moving here from Los Angeles, California five years ago meant a major adjustment in my listening practices–I once used to fall asleep to the sounds of traffic whooshing down Wilshire Boulevard and the rattle of empty bottles from the bar next door hitting the metal dumpster like a heavy rain, letting me know it was well past two a.m. In the Binghamton winter, when windows are shut tight, I drift off to the rush of my forced air heater. In the summer, when our windows are thrown open twenty-four hours a day, an infinitesimal hum of insect life usually shepherds me into sleep (when none of my neighbors are having a juicy conversation)–it is a much more vibrant soundscape, at least to my non-native ears:
In wintertime, this heat-necessitated, neighborhood-sanctioned audio voyeurism ends abruptly with the first frost; double-paned windows tell no tales. But for now, the sonic community is vibrant, even in my current neighborhood comprised mainly of retirees: the brush of wind through the trees, the yap of small dogs, the hum-and-drip of wall units, the snarl of lawn mowers and the high-pitched whine of edging equipment—I have learned after trying to work at home a few times that retirees reserve the right to mow any time they damn well please, thank you—and the gossip of family gathered in lawn chair semi-circles two doors down. I knew my next-door-neighbor’s grandchild was visiting two days before she saw me watering my plants and proudly introduced me to the sheepish little one.–From “Summer Soundscapes, East Coast Style” post for Sounding Out!
But Binghamton largely hibernates in the winter–shuts its windows, hunkers down against the brutal cold and the accompanying darkness. Life moves inside, walls itself off. However, since having a child four years ago, I have found myself venturing out much in the cold and the darkness–as soon as it starts to snow he has his face pressed against the glass, yearning to go out in it. . .he is truly a New York child–and in places I would have never thought to go on my own in this season, particularly parks and playgrounds. While they may look like denuded lunar landscapes, Binghamton’s parks are filled with the sounds of children on even the frostiest winter days–shouts during pick up football games, laughter (and screams) of sledding, squeals and taunts issuing from snowball fights, the quickened trudge of booted feet in the snow. The city’s children keep Binghamton’s pulse alive during its cruelest season. Like evergreen trees, they keep our faith in the spring to come.