The Quiet Of Crows, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:34am

I’ve spent the last 12 days up in San Francisco. It was a long stretch.

Last night I slept in my little suburban house, a window open over the bed. As I lay there, in the brief quiet moment between putting down my Kindle and surrendering to sleep, I noticed something.


I love cities. Love the constant change, the crowded sidewalks, the windows into businesses and lives. But boy they sure are decibel-intensive. When subjected to constant noise, it seems a part of our brain dedicates itself to dampening the effect. So the experience of living with noise is not one of sound, but of cotton balls in sound’s usual place.

Last night’s quiet felt like illness lifting. Peace. Pain no more. Pleasure. Sigh.

This morning hordes of birds are out in the trees, twittering. Chirping, cawing. I wish the crows would find another neighborhood – but at least I’m not dulled to it all. I’d rather have capacity to notice, even if it’s crows, than systems in place to ignore what can’t be tolerated.

So here’s to the suburbs. Or more accurately, nature. Absent a hill or a meadow or lake, one can find a city park nowhere near a freeway. Freeways are the worst noise, constant, whirring, roaring. Too low to make you leave, too high to go unnoticed.

I think all we need is enough space in noise to notice sounds. If there’s no noticeable nature in your vicinity, my strategy has always been to find a place where you can look up. Sky is pretty quiet.

Here’s to peace, however it finds you. And weekends. If there are hugs and kisses, even noisy ones, bonus points.

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  • Was actually just thinking about the subject of “noise”, as we’ve moved to a quieter area in Los Angeles, except for the crows! When I lived in NYC, it took me months (as much as I love NY) to adjust to the constant noise, and the pulsating effect on my body. I’ve also switched yoga practices to one without music. The vinyasa flow with music was ramping up too much adrenalin to feel the calming effect of yoga to me, and not some cardio/yoga hybrid. Anyway, lots of random thoughts about noise for me too. And…just as I was about to hit “submit”, a neighbor’s leaf blower is going – hah! So much for quiet.

    12:15 pm
    Lisa said...

    Leaf blowers are the devil:).

  • quiet is the ultimate luxury–

    12:18 pm
    Lisa said...

    That’s very, very true.

  • I adore the quiet and fortunately our neighbourhood is usually peaceful.
    The crows are out in full force when the local raccoons are on prowl and threaten to raid their nests.
    As I type there’s nary a sound outside and it makes me think that I am alone in the world…just the sound of the keyboard keys tapping under my fingers.

    Enjoy your time “at home”
    those white roses and red tomatoes must be happy to have you home.

  • I am so glad you’ve made it back to a peaceful place to wake up in the morning. The time I’ve spent in nyc the last few months made me appreciate coming home to quiet so much! Happy Saturday Lisa!

    xo Mary Jo

  • I spent last weekend, powerless, sleeping on our screened-in porch. The power came back Tuesday morning at 4:47 a.m. I know that because I woke up when the generators on two houses, half a block away, stopped – leaving my back yard strangely quiet.

    It’s like camping in your tent next to an RV.

    12:25 pm
    Lisa said...


  • What in the world is going on with the crow population on the peninsula?

    I love quiet too. Have a good weekend Lisa.

  • I really notice this coming and going between our Vanc’r apartment and our island home. Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of noise at the beach, especially from boat and seaplane motors — but there’s space in between that remind us of what quiet sounds like. That’s what you’re talking about, right? It’s an important touchstone, and I wish more could experience it. . .

  • Consider myself lucky to awaken everyday to the best attributes of both urban and rural –
    Our San Francisco home is almost (geographically) in the center of the city, but fortunately at the top of a steep street with not much traffic, and quiet neighbors who rarely use their decks.
    Although we hear the occasional news helicopter overhead, the usual ambient noise comes from jays, red tail hawks, and our backyard chickens…..

    12:19 pm
    Lisa said...

    I keep looking at San Francisco real estate and thinking a high floor with a deck and views could do it. Your place sounds lovely.

  • I know an unusual but very effective way to make crows steer clear of your property! I not only do not like the noise; they kill baby birds and chicks just for pleasure!

    A friend from Montana told me “Just shoot one; and nail it upside down on the gate!”

    I can see the SWAT team arresting me in Montecito!

    I bought life-size “halloween” decoration crows, hung them upside down on tree trunks and we went from hundreds down to none in an hour.

    I put them away when we had a garden tour; and back they came. Gone in an hour when I put them back!

    The bobcat even attacked one! Got a mouthful of styrofoam and black feathers!!

    It works!!!

    1:04 pm
    Marcy Simmons said...

    Thanks for the tip Penelope! I have some of those decorative crows myself, and now I know they’ll be put to better use outside instead of in!

    8:28 am
    Flo said...

    “I have some of those decorative crows myself..”

    Yes! The best Halloween department in these parts has been K-Mart, I go every year and add to my life-size crow collection, they are the BEST! Artsyto the max, I have them tucked all over the house year-round, barely noticeable, between books on a shelf, tucked in a glass cupboard between plates, set on a high ledge looking out to the water. When our K-Mart closed early this year I went into a terrible funk.

    12:26 pm
    Lisa said...

    Oh my goodness. I will have to do this. Penelope, you have done us all a great favor. Thank you.

  • Chattering birds is one thing, cawing crows is another.
    I love Penelope Biachi’s suggestion of the upside down crow (a fake one, not a real one.
    I wonder if this will work for squirrels too. The blasted squirrels ate all of the avocados off of our tree this year.
    And now some kind of animal(squirrels, deer, racoons?) have got to the blackberry and blueberry bushes.
    For gardeners like me, life in the suburbs is a struggle of man/woman against nature.
    But it beats life in the city,IMHO.

  • “So the experience of living with noise is not one of sound, but of cotton balls in sound’s usual place.”

    Having just moved from right beside a major highway in a city to the suburbs, I can wholeheartedly agree with this!

    12:26 pm
    Lisa said...

    I hope you are enjoying the relative quiet.

  • We spend most weekends away from the city. We sleep with the doors to our screened porch open (it opens onto our bedroom) and love the sound of the woodland orchestra.

    12:26 pm
    Lisa said...


  • I love cities and my visits to them but I also welcome quiet when I am home. It would be nice to have both.

  • Believe it or not, Privilege and The Humble Bungalow are places I go for quiet. Husband’s pigeons coo on our roof every morning. That’s a calming sound. I’d love to sleep with an open window. Not possible with 105 temps.

    12:27 pm
    Lisa said...

    I’m flattered.

  • I have had a totally opposite experience.
    My ears were hurting because of the silence, which was unbearable.
    In the turn of 80-90´s, a hundred miles in northeast Finland, on a cold, silent January month. Total silence.
    Then again, it was a pain to stay in one hotel in the outskirts of Berlin, near a highway. The noise of the traffic was nonstop.
    Both experiences caused an enough amount of anxiety in me.

    12:27 pm
    Lisa said...

    Very interesting.

  • Living in the Italian countryside I always worry about our holiday guests’ first night here – unprepared for the nighttime sounds they probably lie awake wondering “What on earth was THAT?” as owls shriek, cicadas wind down after a long day and and various animals do unspeakable things to other animals. The difference in a city is that the white noise disguises sounds, whereas as here they stand out against the backdrop of pure silence.

    12:27 pm
    Lisa said...

    I love anything that starts with the sentence, “Living in the Italian countryside…”

  • After years of a city life in the Phoenix area, we moved to a much quieter location in Virginia 5 years ago. Blood pressure goes down, tempers flare no more, and best of all… you can breathe this country air without burning eyes and a constant cough. Silence suits us quite well and we fall asleep with ease now each night.

  • Love the quiet

  • My favorite way to unwind after the office is to sit on the covered porch off my master, prop up my feet, feel what breeze there may be and listen to the cicadas. The porch never gets direct sunlight so is always pleasant, even when the rest of Austin is hot as blazes. I love listening to the sounds of nature :)

  • I may be in the minority, but I like crows. They’re social and intelligent birds. I’m pleased to hear their cawing as one of the first signs of spring.

  • Ah-haa, just this morning a very persnikity crow was causing all manner of ruckus outside our window, I finally wove the white flag and got up…I think even the squirrels were a bit upset by it!

    When I visit my mom in L.A., I’m subjected to sleeping above a very busy street corner, well actually, there really isn’t any ‘sleep’ happening, it’s all tossing and turning…and coming home to my little forested plot of earth in the burbs *is* very much like an illness lifting, and oh so peaceful…the quiet is absolute heaven, even with the persnikity crow! Wouldn’t trade it for the world!
    xo J~

  • Looovely. Having just moved to the furthest suburb of London (High Barnet!) after over a decade of living in zones 1 or 2, I am appreciating the lack of noise. Every day! Lawn mowers are an annoyance, though. And I love throwing myself back into the racket a few times a week!

  • “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar that lies on the other side of silence.” George Eliot, Middlemarch.

    Between the mind-numbing din of collected humanity in the great cities of the world and the “roar that lies on the other side of silence”, comes the quiet of crows.

    My husband spent a week in the Amazon wilderness once, and had trouble sleeping midst the noise of nature.

    Such an eloquent post! Thank you, I’ve bookmarked it as a place to ponder.