The Sounds of Summer

The Sounds of Summer

The luxury of spending childhood summers in a place that was primitively developed probably contributed to a deeper understanding and appreciation for nature than most of my peers might have had.Virtually all of the white and black noises of nature have played as songs in my ears including the isolated symphonic sounds of wind in the pine trees, rain falling on roofs, ponds, leaves and lawns, waves lapping, washing or crashing on bulkheads, jetties and beach shores, birds of every size or hue, crickets, bees, cicadas, thunder, hurricanes, lightening and gales.

I have witnessed the silent flights of bats and lightening bugs, the stealthy hunting creep of the fox, the breath taking sight of a billion visible stars on a cloud-free moonless night, and the chaos of a million silver smelts stranding themselves on a springtime beach as they flee large predators. I have felt the cycles of nature in the repeating life of seaside tides, and rowed a boat on a pond with nothing but a full moon to light the way; a moon that could sometimes even seem too bright, as it reflected itself off the surface of the water.

Over a long period of time I have also helplessly witnessed this area of Eastern Long Island become progressively more developed to the point of becoming unrecognizable to me for what it once was, resulting in losing of much of its natural charming beauty.

Crop land is being sold piecemeal for housing developments as farmers make less and less profit working it, yet still have to pay property taxes. Farm children no longer want to work land whose offering prices will make them instant millionaires instead of marginally subsistent sweaty peasants. Most recently the dairy farms have finally capitulated as they walked only two steps behind the numerous duck farms which are now long gone themselves.

The first artificially man-made sounds I remember hearing were those of a midnight train whistle or the relentless distant Doppler drone of the mariner’s foghorn at the Shinnecock Inlet. They were always there, as a soft background intrusion, yet never seemed to be an imposition on auditory sensation.

These sounds have now been replaced by the constant din of mowers, wood chippers; cigarette boat’s thundering engines, wave runners, music blaring from outdoor speakers, continuous construction noise, and the headache producing whining beeps that are programmed into motorized vehicles every time they go into reverse.

Yet even this is only a microcosm of the more general staggering pace of modern development. For example, a friend from my Residency training, Edward, had a grandmother who died in the late 1970s at the age of 90, who could recall the Fordham section of the Bronx being primarily dairy farms.

It has also been a mere century between the first primitive airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, and the ability to put a man on the moon or to land a robot on the surface of Mars.

The Homo sapien is a marvelous species of mammal made unique in all of nature by its ability to stand upright and the evolutionary gift of the opposable thumb. Standing erect freed up the hands with its prehensile thumbs, which then allowed for fine motor coordination and the subsequent evolution of eye-hand coordination. The development of eye-hand coordination then allowed the cerebral cortex to increase in size, to become more intricate and thus became a positive evolutionary feedback loop. The opposable thumb itself is unique to the species, which because it allowed for the fine motor manipulation necessary to make tools and weapons, is the sole reason that man can control and manipulate his environment.

It was only a short step then until the first axe, hoe and spearhead was invented, and for the species to be launched on an inevitable pathway to dominating the planet. Throw in the incidental ability to control fire, the invention of the wheel, iron and dynamite and then you have a truly terrifying creature on your hands.

John Beuttner-Janush, a former college professor at Duke, repeatedly pointed out in his lectures, that as a species we are what we are not because of what we have in our crania but rather because of what we sit on. He used to chide us by saying that if primitive man had never gotten off his ass, he never would have had a brain. That aphorism still holds true for a number of people I know today.

Yet man only differs from the great apes of Africa by a total of four percent in his entire genetic code and like many mammals or apes has his own genetic predisposition to the territorial imperative. Virtually all mammals fight to defend or sometimes to expand their domains and unless programmed to live as solitary hunters, will alwyas find refuge in groups with a common heritage and purpose. It is nothing more than an extension of the survival instinct.

The need to cluster in groups such as clubs, fraternities, tribes, sects, religious orders and nations is as biologically programmed as is the necessity to go to war in order to control or eliminate a competitor or to gain additional resources for oneself.

The problem is that on every level, the pace of man’s physical, material, and technological development has hopelessly outstripped his emotional development, which probably equates on an evolutionary time scale to that of a pre-pubertal teenager. I take that back. It is often more equivalent to that of a five year old.

Modern civilization is plagued by noise pollution and air pollution, not to mention that the night sky is also visually obscured by artificial light pollution. A person living in the center of a major city or even in the vicinity of a large town may be at risk for progressive deafness; pollution induced asthmatic lung disease and can never even see the stars when looking up on an otherwise clear night sky. Concrete jungles with its sounds of metallic mechanized beasts have replaced woodlands, farms and the sounds of birds and bees. There are probably even some accidental prisoners of the inner city ghettos who have never even heard the beautifully resonating sound of the wind.

There is also the equally sad loss of the sound of silence and the peaceful empty spaces that come between the natural rhythmic noises indigenous to an unspoiled environment.

Running on a parallel track is man’s loss of any direct contact with nature coupled with a species-wide inability to relate to nature’s balances and recurrent cycles; not to mention a perpetual need to go to war or to hate every other culture that does not happen to be ones own. The civilization that grew out of the cultures of Europe, the Middle East and Asia are the cultures that have manipulated the environment to suit its own selfish needs, subsequently leaving behind much of the natural planet Earth devastated, deforested and unrecognizable for what it once was.

Included in this generalized rape of the landscape, animals that have populated these areas have suffered coincidentally by being displaced or eliminated and often to the point of virtual extinction. They are the innocent collateral victims in the great war of perpetual development and mechanized madness.

The human species is the only life form on earth that can artificially alter its environment. It has come quite a long way from its cave dwelling days when superstitious men cowered in fear of ferocious beasts or spent their lives hunting and gathering food in order to survive from day to day. Today, superstition is replaced by scientific fact and we have exterminated most if not all ferocious beasts, while we do our hunting and gathering in super markets and fast food chains.

However, not all cultures were impervious to the need to maintain respect and to live within the boundaries of nature. The American Indian lived in harmony with his universe and respected the world around him. He also re-cycled everything he used. It was easy. Everything he used was organic. Some Native American tribes do not even have words for “jealously” or “greed” in their languages.

Many of the primitive jungle tribes that have recently been discovered in this modern era are of a similar philosophic persuasion and remain free of debilitating unbalanced materialistic drives. Of course they are not free from the genetically programmed bent for tribal warfare, but they do have respect for animals, for natural resources, and for the most part take from nature only as much as needed, while leaving the rest of it alone. They are philosophically fatalistic, believe in the gods of natural forces, and they do not destroy the earth that gives them life. Contrast this with Western cultural philosophies rooted in codified structured religions or in mandates that seem to come with a perverted sense of divinely originated sanction.

When the Book Genesis was written, was it written as a story to explain, to justify, and to rationalize human behavior, or was it really written as an excuse, or possibly only a cover story for the pre-existent ten thousand years of the human specie’s poor behavior. Unfortunately, it just never really seems to apologize for the dark side of humanity. It only castigates and chastises.

Yet then again, if a rationalization ever did become required for collectively poor human behavior, the best retrospective excuse to possibly offer would be to blame it all on a higher authority.

Just call it, God; then lay the blame on him: Halleluiah.

The American Indian did not need the White man’s Bible to redefine his relationship with nature, which to that point in time had stood the test of independent parallel human evolution.

Although Western conquerors forcibly imposed this document on Native American culture, while in doing so simultaneously referring to the Indian as Godless, for some strange reason I have come to realize that the opposite is probably closer to the truth. I cannot bring myself to believe in making the Garden of Eden, which in reality is this very planet Earth, that God in also making Man; gave him a simultaneous carte blanche mandate to go out and subsequently destroy it. God gave man a dominion. He gave it to him to be its steward and its Good Shepherd; but not necessarily to eradicate every plant or animal that ever crossed his path.

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

However, the explanation for why as a species we seem to thrive on destruction may lie in the fact that God changed his mind after Adam and Eve disobeyed him and fell from grace. It may just be a simple case of the worst way to deal with blame: Seek revenge.

“Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

I once had a friend who came out from New York City to spend a weekend in the Hamptons. At home in Manhattan, he had no trouble sleeping through the sounds of emergency sirens, traffic, honking horns, apartment neighbor’s din, and bustling noisy crowds.

However, he could not sleep at my house because the sound of wind, rain or crickets kept him awake at night, while the sound of birds chirping and crowing gave him insomnia at dawn.

 

And the people bowed and prayed  To the neon god they made  And the sign flashed out its warning  In the words that it was forming  And the sign said,

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls  And tenement halls”  And whispered in the sounds of silence

 

(Paul Simon)

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