Edison Neighborhood

Sounds of the neighborhood: Listen closely and you will hear the unexpected

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series. This is the first in the series written by one of our Community Correspondents.

What did you hear today? There's a lot of renovation and new building going on in the Edison Neighborhood, both public and private, so you may have heard construction. Lawn mowing. Independence Day celebrations. But, in general, Edison is a pretty quiet place. Then again, there are a lot of sounds you may not have noticed.

As this writer was walking along Stockbridge one day, he heard the ratta-tat of an air hammer, but it was crisp and seemed close--and high. It turns out that it was a woodpecker, pecking at the sheet metal hood over a chimney. Ratta-tatta-tatta-tat. Ratta-tatta-tatta-tat. Ratta-tatta-tatta-tat. One would think he'd figure out that IF there were any worms behind that sheet metal, he wasn't going to get to them, and if they were there, the worms were probably laughing their butts off, if worms had butts.

Continuing on Stockbridge to Reed Court, the ratta-tat could still be heard. But now sensitized to sounds, a lot more became evident. Suddenly this was a veritable ornithological symphony. There must be 20 or 30 different kinds of birds in this neighborhood. How can that be?

Sometimes woodpeckers get confused about where to find the best dinner. Photo by Fran Dwight
Tee-tee, tee-tee. . .chip-chip-chip. . .twit-twit, twit-twit. . .hicketta-hicketa-hicketta-hick. . .wri-wit, wri-wit. . .CAW. . .coo-coo, coo-coo-coo-coo-coo. . . . Total surround-sound, repeating and orchestrated. Then there was that beautiful sound that often floats across a lake in the summertime: woo-WEEoo, WOO-woo-woo. . . woo-WEEoo, WOO-woo-woo. The sound of a mourning dove. 

Then, tweet-tweet (how unoriginal!). T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. . .Kreah-aw. . . kwah-kwah-kwah. . .Teet-teet-teet-teet-teet-teet. . .hih-hih-hih-hih-hih. . . twit-twit, twit-twit-twit. . .chi-chi-chi-chi-chi. . .twee-uh, twit-twit-twit-twit-twit . . Ta-woopa-chip-chip-chip-ta-woopa. . .chicka-chick. . . . They intertwined, but they also seemed to wait until each other were done with their song. Very polite!

One bird sounds just like Nelson Biddle, the bully on The Simpsons. Nelson uses that "NYAH-nyah" sort of tone when he says, "HAH-ha!" Well, we have birds who say that here. But the bird sounds more like, "FREE-furrrr. . .FREE-furrrr," and they do go on and on about it. And while it's the same tone of voice, it really does sound like he's "hawking" his wares, "FREE-furrrr."

We have another bird who is French or something. Sounds condescending and disapproving. He says a quick, "TWEET-it. . .TWEET-it. . .TWEET-it." Speaking of French, how about the one that says, "toot-SWEET. . . toot-SWEET"?

You can also see a lot if you look up, too. At Portage Creek, there was a loud flapping. It was a huge bird, flying from the woods, up the street, with its wingspan almost the width of the street--effortlessly flapping between the trees, as if he were obeying traffic laws. Looked like a pterodactyl, with its big head and long, curved neck, long beak and legs. Felt like Jurassic Park.

There's more. In the evening, you might see raccoons looking for food. Down by the railroad tracks, deer sometimes make their way through town, as if the tracks were their nature trail.

A few years ago, the area was overrun with bunnies. It was like our own Disney movie. Apparently, they had been "evicted" from their homes when the small forest across from the farmers market was leveled to build beautiful new homes--for people. It was fun while it lasted, but bunnies can't survive long on concrete and pavement, so most are gone now.

There were other sounds that day. There were church bells, since it was Sunday, and the "breathing" of the cars as they passed. Cars don't use any vowels. You just hear "h-h-h-h-h-H-H-H-H-h-h-h-h" as they hiss by, more pronounced if the pavement is wet. At the corner, there's the "pong-pong-pong" from the telephone pole--that tells pedestrians not to cross the street (most people do, anyway). If you push the button to cross, the mechanical voice says, "wait-wait-wait-wait," then says something like, "Por-tage, time to cross Por-tage."

On Reed Avenue, Vernon Stiles was letting in his dog. He waved. But mostly, people were sleeping. Or they were at the early church service. But why would one want to be cooped up in a concrete and brick box with a bunch of half-asleep humans, when it's possible to be out in nature-where, certainly, God lives, if there's a God. Would you rather listen to the same old human words, repeated over and over, half-heartedly, not thinking about what the words even mean? Or would you want to hear the prayers and the gossip and the flirting of the birds, so happy to be up and around, even on a cloudy day?

Sometimes the planes flying overhead are very loud and very low. Photo by Fran DwightOh, there were a few other sounds. The airport is a few miles south of here, and the planes always seem to come in from the north. You hear the roar of the engines occasionally, and sometimes they seemed very loud, meaning they're very low, and one fears hearing a crash--but always glad not to.

People don't think about most sounds in our environment. There are planes and trains and automobiles. A helicopter flew over, headed to the hospital, just northwest of Stockbridge. But we don't usually notice any of that. The only time it was obvious was the few days after 9/11. They grounded ALL air travel. And it was really bizarre. And terrific. The absence of even jets that are only a speck in the sky--that send down the sound that we no longer even notice. The sound of pre-flight America was amazing in its aural virginity in 2001. That only lasted a few days, of course. Then the flight ban lifted. Each passover was obvious. Then, none of them were. And now, it's back to the steel wool tapestry of sound that plays in the background all day, every day. Mechanical cacophony.

But if you take the time to listen, there's a lot of simple, soothing sounds of chipper, chirping birds, the breeze in the trees, the rippling water in the creek. There's a lot to love in Edison, and a lot of it isn't human.

Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here

For more Edison coverage, please follow these links.

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On the Ground Kalamazoo launches in the Edison Neighborhood

The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from the City of Kalamazoo, LISC, the Fetzer Institute, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Michigan WORKS!, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
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Read more articles by Gerry Hoffmann.

Gerry Hoffmann has lived on the same corner in Edison since 1969 and is past president of the Board of the Edison Neighborhood Association.