The weather was so pleasant the other day that I decided to ride my bike the mile and a quarter to the Rec-Center. It took me a solid half-hour to dust off the bike, pump up the tires and adjust the seat, but once those were out of the way, I was off. As I pedaled and panted, the sun was shining brilliantly between white clouds; birds were singing; green tufts of grass were shyly coming up in the yards along eighth street; in the distance one of the ten thousand daily train whistles blared out. The fact that those things were happening is nothing incredible. It is incredible that, on my bike, I noticed them. Normally Bon Iver or Tchaikovsky and my climate control system combine to drown out any city noises outside my car. But on this day they were loud and clear. I could hear the bike tires crunching on little rocks of the streets, the low roar of the interstate behind me, distant police sirens and a kid yelling, “That’s mine; Give it back!” in a yard somewhere near. Something about the cacophony was pleasant and even comforting; though this ride wasn’t the first time I’d enjoyed the sounds of Newton.
My favorite city noise has always been the bells ringing from churches downtown. When my wife and I lived on Applewood Lane (on the west side of Sand Creek just off of twelfth street), we would stand out on our apartment porch on temperate spring days and listen to the bells of Saint Mary’s pealing around the city. This tradition of ringing bells is worldwide and very ancient. Peter Acroyd, in his recent book, London: A Biography notes, “Before the sound of motorcars entered the already crowded streets, the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside ‘would have been audible all over London.’” I spent a couple days in Krakow Poland in 2010 and there were bells there too. (There was also a trumpeter who would blast out the hours from a tower in the city square. What he lacked in tone and intonation he made up with volume and general trumpeting spirit.) Just this year Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris received nine new bronze bells (twenty-three tons worth) to replace the old, decaying ones. Bells are a time honored sound and we have the privilege of hearing them in Newton. Our bells may be played digitally out of speakers from the bell tower, but they still ring out, and it is a hopeful, joyous noise. But it is a noise I don’t hear very often because I’m in my car, wearing headphones or in my house. So every once in a while, it is good to step outside, ride a bike, walk, pull the headphones out of my ears and just listen.
Newton has its own sound signature of sirens, cars, wind, trains and bells. It’s interesting, human, sometimes pleasant and worth hearing.
R. Eric Tippin
In The Study on 8th Street
For another, more nuanced reflection on the unheard noises around us, read this piece written by my brother, Phillip.