Our river is the color of chocolate milk, with a glint of pale green, like mint streaks in the chocolate. On the opposite bank a concrete wall rises, concealing the hypnotic line of cars heading north and south on I5. The wall conceals the view, and, I’m told by folks who lived here much longer than me, a portion of the noise. Sitting here now, freeway sounds don’t quite drown out a robin alarmed by a crow busy with feeding his or her clutch. Out here, one has to raise one’s voice a tad to be heard of the noise.
And then there’s SeaTac, with its punctuated take-off growls, and sometimes a low sustained rumble floats down the water from the Burlington Northern tracks.
Being a weekend, it’s unlikely we’ll here the startling thunder of a military jet leaving Boeing Field, also known as King County Airport. When those guys take off over our house, whether the Navy from Whidbey Island or the Air Force from Joint Base Lewis McChord, the noise is loud enough to cause much wincing at home, especially if we happen to be outside.
Around my Seattle workplace there is a lot of construction. I park my car many blocks away—where the parking is free—and walk to the building. The first project is the erection and completion of a multi-use dwelling for laboratories, offices and some retail, because biotech is thick around where I work, including my own company. At the start of this project there was much concrete cutting. This is not done by jack-hammer, at least not on this scale, but by heavy machinery loaded onto diesel semis. The noise from these monsters equals that of the the military hot shots. Wincing, again.
Then there is the motorcade of dump trucks and concrete mixers, diggers, and back hoes that moves constantly along our street, engines idling and steel plates banging. Add to this the noise from the pit.
The pit that used to be a parking lot has been dug for the purpose of foundation. Directly next to Lake Union, the pit is littered with soaring pikes and concrete syphons. Massive pile drivers pock the pit’s bottom with holes and the syphons pump concrete into them. The biggest back hoes I’ve ever seen have carved out the pit, so that the pile drivers, taller than our 5 story building, can sink their teeth into the soil.
Likely the foundation around the Lake is rock. There’s no fill here, just a natural glacial lake, like all our lakes. It’s a working lake, and one of my many walking routes, depending on parking availability, passes by two shipyards, where the Coast Guard, ferries and sea-going fishing vessels come for dry dock work. This gets noisy too, and worse, smelly, of oil and scorch.
And above our building, set into a hillside rising up from the Lake, is our constant friend, I5. Traffic hisses along a viaduct above us, and in the area where I sometimes wait for a bus, is a major downtown interchange. Various engine noises of speeding up and slowing down, semis, delivery trucks, and the ever present dump trucks, provide a cacophony that can’t really be drowned out by my ear buds.
Helicopters, sirens, and Japanese motor cycles punctuate the endless rumble and roar.
I read how researchers are evaluating acoustic stress. My little oasis of a neighborhood is in an industrial corridor so I am hearing this daily. Even during my commute, whether by car or by bus, there is the rhythm of my tires or the whine of the bus-engine.
The local poet Steven Jesse Bernstein, long dead from self-destruction, recorded spoken word albums. Our favorite is “More Noise Please”. We are convinced he wrote this poem while staying or maybe living at the Airport Hotel, a seedy brick establishment just north of Boeing field directly under the runway route and one long block away from our endless friend, I5.