MY FATHER PROFESSED AND PROMOTED that we should have a national holiday—“Listen Day”—where we celebrate the sense of hearing and pay focused attention. Dad even got a few local organizations to promote it with a fair. This idea has stuck with me like an ear worm, all my life.
Searching the internet for Listen Day we find “A Day to Listen” promoting story-telling as a form of cultural, historical preservation, often in Indigenous tribes.
I encourage you to Listen where you Live!
When traveling as an RVer the options of parking places are very diverse. Boondocking, on the other hand, we endeavor to park remotely, for free. “Home is where you Park it” according to the bumper sticker on our 1997 Shadow Cruiser. A 9-foot, slip in, pop-up, fully outfitted, pickup truck camper, lacking only air conditioning.
For us the basic setup is to level the 1994 GMC diesel pickup, unlatch the roof, duck inside and crank up the ceiling/roof. With canvas walls, about 2 feet between the chest level box and fiberglass lid, we mostly camp in the wilderness. The canvas walls have zip open, smoke tinted vinyl “windows” and fixed screens strategically placed for panoramic views straight out when standing. Most nights we install reflective bubble wrap around the front, cab over, bed section. This offers room darkening, minor insulation, and vapor barrier to minimize condensation around the low ceiling mattress area. It’s like a pizza oven.
The pop-up part is important. If you have ever spent a night in a tent (nylon walls) you know you can hear EVERYTHING!… everything from crickets to airliners.
For the next 2 months this is home. Home, where you typically have uncensored conversations with your mate but, NOT in this home! Many times I’ve stopped conversation short, realizing we are in a parking lot and there are people walking by, people who I don’t want to hear my business.
We regularly drive through towns and stop at shopping centers or local parks to have lunch, utilize the cell phone connection, and plan specifically where to park it, later that night. Often the city parks where we have lunch are being manicured with large commercial mowers with the volume and intensity of highway shoulder parking. Relentless, do those guys ever take a lunch break?
Of course, this works both ways, we are visually out of sight and can hear entire conversations next door, vehicle traffic, or better yet, the yells and shouts of children on the playground. This all is reasonable and acceptable during daylight hours.
When we leave the mid-Atlantic and head west, we have some “dues” to pay. Firstly, free camping in the East is a skill. For this trip we opted to use a travel (internet application) club; Boondockers Welcome (BW), for several stays. With some geographically sparse host members, even on their map, we felt fortunate to find one near the city we intended to spend the day. What we didn’t know was that this host’s house was on the flight path of an International Airport. We’d been better just camping on the runway!
When I say on the flight path I mean that if a wheel fell off of one of those planes we would be crushed like old grapes! As a member of this club, it is not customary to enter peoples’ houses, so I don’t know how much structure and insulation helped occupants because, I swear I could hear the flight attendant announcement to “raise your tray table and seat backs!”
Sleep was limited and fortunately there was a break in the action from 11PM to 5AM. Thankful that we were safe, level, together and strategically located on our travel path. However, this is about Listening where you Live, and I know many of us get used to the sounds at our foundation homes. I also know that slow changes go unnoticed. Traveling most every day these changes are not slow for us.
Another stop at a BW club member and we are on a farm. Cows, a few chickens, a pond and a wide open field to park in. As we drift off around 10PM, I hear my wife’s melodious breathing, indicating sleep. Then across the valley bang…bang….bang…a steady rhythmic, full clip of large caliber pistol shots lasting ~15-20 seconds. Thinking that is strange, this late at night, a few minutes later and Bratatatatatatat! a full magazine of fully automatic, machine gun fire lasting ~5 seconds. That is really strange and somewhat terrifying! It is a sound I have only heard twice before at formal gun ranges and of course, in the movies. Another minute or two and I hear the pistol again, at the same pace as the first. Finally sleep for the rest of the night. A morning visit with our host and we leave with a gift of fresh pears off his tree.
Such extreme sonic events, and its only the first week of travel. The next few nights, fortunately drone with the sounds that we are used to, or at least expect, as we stay in unfamiliar places.
Finally, the boondocking we’ve traveled for; public land, off the paved road, level, remote parking area with a fire ring. A “dually” truck and hard side camper would not nimble through the trees lining the two track trail like we did. The fire ring is rocks arranged by other campers on the edge of one of the Great Lakes. But no fire tonight! Waves of wind blowing and the site is tight! White caps fold onto the short stoney beach, an oscillating continuum, small scale compared to the Atlantic Ocean with which we are so familiar. The top is up as dinner nears. Canvas and vinyl that flutter in the wind like sails on a Frigate. The wind with an occasional gust jolts the camper like a body blow from Mike Tyson! Fortunately, that stops shortly after we turned-in, or we slept through it.
Days later, we again, nimble down a two track, threading our way through a tunnel of trees to one of many lakes in Minnesota. We spend extra time positioning the rig in a tight area, leveling with wood block shims that we carry for that purpose, just to be lakeside. Occupying an unused boat ramp that would only support a kayak launch in its degraded state of maintenance.
Waking in the early morning to a trumpeting, that traversed the open, dark air. Could it be? Possibly, a lakeside moose? What a treat that would be!
Minutes pass and light is slow to come, it sounds off again! Turning our heads to locate the sound’s direction, we listen. The source…on the other side of the lake, possibly? Then a familiar sound to us; geese fly in, honking as they splash down. We get up, look out the window into solid grey. We quietly open the door to the disappointment of thick fog. Hours later as we pack up, the fog thins we use binoculars to spot the white swans, speaking with their trumpeting throats!
Weather has been perfect so far, we are ahead of peak Autumn by a few days. Still great to see the trees change and the lands take color. One night we had a rain shower. Glad to have it at night but, this is different. Remember, our pop up roof is fiberglass, a real game changer acoustically. You may have heard rain or even sleet on a metal roof building or car which would be similar. On the camper roof, competing with sleep, it is dominating and attractive the first few times. I can only tell you that it is unique…a dull crack with more reverberating, resonance than that of a metal roof. Similarly, dozens of times per second. This noise negates sleep. Sadly, time to locate and insert the foam ear plugs.
Weeks and miles later we are in the open plains…BLM (Bureau of Land Management), yes open, public lands…that no one else wants or would take. The view; long and homogenous, comparatively void of things to look at far and near. A delightful place for silence and, free for the camping. Often used as “open range” I call it camping with the cows. Some of the sounds cattle can make are very unusual, and as luck would have it, brief.
The next day a more pleasant sound with our opportunity and experience, the sound of the truck pushing against a 20mph head wind. This sound becomes an audible glow of the engine mixed with the whirr of the turbo, diesel with cruise set at 57mph, the old truck’s sweet spot. An occasional “hit” from the wake of a passing tractor trailer running with the wind. An audible (and course changing) reality that will repeat itself many times over the next weeks.
Days, and several states later we are back into the mountains, rocks and trees…the National Forests and Boondocking at its best, great places, scenery, stone fire rings, water and more life. We find a spot near a river. As the air becomes noticeably cool, it carries some moisture too. We retire to bed and again are fated to Listen where we Live with white noise generated by the cascading river water. As a fun thing in high school we memorized and repeated that White Noise is the equal distribution of all frequencies and intensities in a band width over time. Shhhhhhhh!!
For me personally, this is a double edged sword. As I age out of career work and allow such excursions, my body has digressed and degenerated. A few years ago, at a local health fair, I went into the room for a hearing test. Nurses with specific equipment I hadn’t seen since elementary school. A test and some discussion disclosed I likely have Tinnitus, a common degradation of hearing coupled with “ringing” in the ears. For me a sound similar to that of a partially opened water spigot, though not as loud. With this new diagnosis, and hoping for more information, I phoned the Tinnitus People…it just kept ringing and ringing with no one answering!
The white noise of the river flowing over a rock ledge actually is somewhat relaxing to the un-altering and sometimes annoying noise of Tinnitus. The problem is that it is not so relaxing to my aging prostate. At my age, I don’t need subliminal encouragement for additional nighttime bathroom breaks.
Several nights later we again find ourselves beside a forest stream, though it is different. There isn’t the sound of cascading white water. For this sound we have a word…burbling. This is when the water traps and forces different sized bubbles so the sounds are varied. Easy to get used to.
Weeks later, with desperation to find free camping in Texas we opted for a highway rest stop/RV park. Seven spaces lined up, each with picnic table, water and sewer connection, electricity and a common trash dumpster…all free. Many signs to keep us compliant, in line, facing the same direction, neat and orderly. This compliance, the only cost to what is normally $15-40 per night. Good for the budget, not good for canvas wall campers. On one side, a steady supply of accelerating tractor trailers as they leave town limits. The other side entertained us with 3 freight trains, required to blast their air horns three times, for each of the two on-grade crossings in that town. Like the excruciating scenes in the movie “My Cousin Vinnie!” At least we didn’t get stuck in the mud with no escape!
Much later in the trip, a stay at a Corps of Engineers campground. An Equestrian campground with pull though design and relatively many welcomed amenities: steel fire ring with grate, picnic table, green, mowed grass, portable toilets, hitching posts (for horses), one open shed / pavilion and large shade trees. With several other rigs near the lake we chose a more secluded, level spot on the other side of the campground, under a large oak tree. Turns out it was on the boundary edge of a country road. Not a lot of traffic but a vehicle every now and then.
The problem came later at night when the Autumn wind ramped-up. Remember our acoustically strange, fiberglass roof? When the wind starts blowing, the canvas / vinyl window wall is flapping, something we have grown accustomed to. The difference tonight, the leaves and leaf clusters dropping on the roof then skidding across like a mouse running. The duration of this sound extended with the wind direction blowing the length of the roof. Again a strange and unique noise…weirdly interesting…for the first 5 minutes!
So you know this is NOT solely negative or complaints, let me mention several other sounds, we often experience, as we Listen where we Live:
On multiple nights as consciousness fades a strange, soft whistle occurred. “What animal is that?” I ask myself. Somewhat nasal, yes, definitely nasal…it’s a human at peace…mostly…until the instance, when a rapid, surprise, inhale snort, startles me. Like the sound of a hog working as he roots in mud. This disturbance, from this source, fills my heart with the good stuff.
Of course, we enjoy chirps of small birds, chipmunks and prairie dogs, serenading crickets and honks and quacks. Side note…I’ve been told that a duck’s quack do not echo!
On multiple nights we listen to coyotes. To start, we hear one mature sounding howl with rapid vibrato then multiple youngsters join in yelp-yip-yap. Sounding like “welcome home” or “thanks for being you”, we find it different and pleasing. It only lasts a minute or so. On a few nights other family dens from different directions, would join the concert. A surprising, happy community performance.
With the good fortune to have the ability to move around, sampling various geography, infrastructure, and biology, we prefer the sounds of nature, second only to that of human language. We forever encourage you to choose your favorite sounds as you take the time and focus to Listen where you Live.