The screeching whine of the road crew’s chainsaw snaps you to attention. A neighbor’s yapping dogs suddenly sound like they’ve cornered a bear. The unmuffled motorcycles from the highway a half mile away feel like they’re hot-dogging in your driveway.
Rappahannock County is normally so quiet that, paradoxically, the slightest unwelcome noise becomes that much more annoying. In the typical urban or suburban soundscape, only ambulance or police sirens rise sufficiently above the constant din to be even noticed.
The human ear is an amazing amplifier — an evolution-designed early-warning system. Our brains amp up the volume of sound waves emanating from the very smallest (but possibly the most dangerous) of occurrences — the snapping of a twig, the rustle of dry leaves, the click of a rifle’s magazine.
Though today’s allegedly civilized society may be a less physically dangerous place, our evolutionary wiring hasn’t changed. Thus any unexpected environmental noise calls attention to itself. Not only is that an annoying distraction to serious thought and concentrated actions but also, according to health professionals, such assaults of noise release harmful stress hormones.
These, in turn, lead to blood pressure spikes, increased pulse rates and lasting psychological trauma. Among man-made environmental hazards, these health professionals say, only air pollution causes more damage.
Anti-noise regulations in Rappahannock are “very blunt instruments,” according to county officials, in that they come into play only at the level of disturbance of the peace. Any noise vaguely associated with agricultural activities is exempt in any case. About an incessantly tidy neighbor’s loud leafblower, for example, the sheriff probably can’t help.
So it is that we must rely upon the politeness of our neighbors to keep Rappahannock a quiet, peaceful and contemplative place. If only the nation’s political discourse would be conducted in a similar fashion — without yelling at one another, hurling “soundbites” so loud, shrill and jarring they hurt our ears.