Murray Creek Sounds of Mystery

This morning, Conal and I had a heart-thumping few minutes after hearing glass shattering outside. I was in the master bedroom and heard Conal say, “Did you hear that?” just as I said, “Did you hear that?” We rushed about in search of who, what, where, and why. I immediately had visions of the unknown marauder who invaded the house one recent midnight, nibbling on and tossing about kitchen garbage, and jumped to the conclusion that a critter must have got up to no good again–this time in broad daylight!

As we hunted around for a broken window, or the culprit or evidence of its evisceration, Conal noted that while living in a suburban environment, he routinely filtered out and ignored almost all random sounds. Noise (cars, jet aircraft, arguing neighbors, slamming doors, garbage trucks, barking dogs, etc.) is part of the city living gig. Out here in the sticks, however, noises are generally confined to hummingbird singing, deer stomping, woodpecker chattering, yellow jacket buzzing, and the very occasional CDF helicopter or small aircraft overhead. Even less frequently, we hear chain saws or other machinery from valley neighbors or up on the ridges above.

Cars do go by on our road. About twice a day, I’d say. Four would be our version of a rush. More than that, and the place is probably on fire. Usually it’s the same car going by, neighbor Leonard’s Honda. I’m practicing identifying cars by the sound of their engines. Recognizing engine sounds allows me to resist the annoying temptation to jump up and run to see who is driving by whenever I hear a car on the road. It’s not that big a project, since there are only three that go by regularly–if you count the two cars we drive.

The canyon we call home has an exceptional talent for bouncing sound about in strange directions. A couple of weeks ago, we heard multiple chainsaws that sounded like they were razzing away in the meadow just below our house. Worried about the fire danger from sparks and hot saw blades, I walked down the hill to investigate, only to find that the activity wasn’t anywhere near our property, but much farther up the canyon, past the locked gate at our eastern border that leads to the more remote properties on the road, including Leonard’s. Later that day, we got questions from other neighbors asking if it was us doing the chainsawing. Conal’s mom Ann next door said it sounded like it was very close. The neighbor beyond her also said it seemed practically in her yard. Now, keep in mind that our place is twenty acres, Ann’s to the west is sixty, and the neighbor beyond her is on a forty acre piece. Leonard’s property just beyond the gate to our east is eighty acres. These are not short distances, and there is nowhere near line-of-sight between houses. We live in an echo-chamber, apparently, with sound paying visits to one house after another at nearly the strength and clarity of their origins.

Big sounds are rare, though. It is very quiet here. In the city, I learned to ignore most noises. Here, anything out of the ordinary gets my full attention. The sound of shattering glass this morning was in no way ordinary.

After walking around the house, under the decks, and inspecting the garage, we didn’t find any broken glass or embarrassed looking critters. We looked around again. No luck. Conal went back inside to check on his software installation.

Cra-shatter-smash-tinkle! Conal yelled out the office window, “Holly! Never mind, I found it.” I couldn’t imagine what could be in the office that could break without our seeing it. Turns out, his new software had had an error. The error message had a humorous sound effect. You guessed it, breaking glass. Conal’s laptop is hooked to some very nice speakers that sit on the window sill. The window was open. The sound effect, in high-quality stereo sound coming from the direction of the outdoors, was utterly convincing.

Mystery solved.


Leave a comment