I have never lived in the country. I grew up in Gilman, Minn., a small, quiet town about 20 miles northeast of St. Cloud with 200 living souls and a lot more departed in the graveyard behind the church. But it was still a town.
At age 9, our family uprooted and moved to St. Paul. Instead of a three-street community with two stop signs and a cornfield out the back door, there was house after house on Thomas Avenue. There was a lot more noise, too. Thomas was not a peaceful street, an alternative to University Avenue for those seeking a route to downtown. There were big diesel buses and frequent sirens, along with empty train cars slamming into each other as they coupled near the Koppers Coke Company at the end of Hamline Avenue. While many decry the loss of quiet in a city, there is a predictability about familiar sounds that anchor the routines of a day.
In Duluth, before the declaration of a new day from the chickadees, the starts and stops of the paper guy in his truck in the middle of the night signal the green News Tribune box halfway across the yard has been filled. On cold mornings, after a downwind walk to the street, and checking if the moon is still up there where it belongs, the return to the house becomes a little more challenging against a brisk breeze from the northwest.
Upon a return to the kitchen, the sound of the espresso maker signals that stimulants are on the way. A high-pitched whistle followed by a whooshing discharge of steam into milk means the morning latte will be hot. No hastily poured half-and-half from a crusty carton will cool the tonic.
Sitting at the kitchen table reading the horoscope and catching up on Dear Abby while sipping a pre-sunrise latte, I know it's time to check the bird feeders when I hear the guy down the street accelerate his Subaru down Hutchinson Road at 6:30. His muffler reverberations can be counted on if I want to set my watch as he rows through the gears on his way to work.
Waste Management and Hartel's contribute to the hubbub of school buses and trucks on Piedmont Avenue. Lights flashing, hydraulics moaning and the beep, beep, beep of the big trucks in reverse are reminders that before the first cup of coffee gets onboard, better get the garbage out. Memory loss about the day of the week - or oversleeping - creates a rush to the garage, and then the rumble of the containers to the curb in anticipation of the behemoths swallowing the leftovers of life.
Sounds bracket our days. There is a kind of comfort and predictability about what comes next. Changes of schedule, whenever they come, and breaks in routine create anxiety and concern. We ask, "What's wrong?" Just ask the parents half asleep waiting for their kid to come home after work or being out with friends. Until they hear the click of that door, they just can't relax.
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.