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In the library where I work, the vents are directly overhead in the large reading room. Depending on the season, they blow hot or cold air down on all of us, but they are not quiet. They are not exactly noisy, but they have a low hum that you really don't notice. It's part of the white noise of contemporary life.

I've been noticing it today for a couple of reasons. One, it's a gloomy, rainy Friday and there aren't many people here today. Two, the building people were working on it a couple of days ago (something was wonky with the AC and it was freezing in here) and had it off completely. It was one of those situations where you don't really notice something until it's gone. But without that familiar hum, this place was so incredibly quiet it lived up to the cliche about being able to hear a pin drop, even as the reading room was packed with students.

Since there's been so much recent talk about 9/11, I recall that for a couple of days after 9/11 all U.S. air traffic was grounded. I remember how quiet the world seemed. We're so used to airplanes overhead that when they're not, the quiet is startling. Unnerving, even.

Our apartment is near a major highway. Most of the time this isn't a problem, but there is always the traffic noise. Not bad, just constant. I don't notice when I'm doing things around the house, but sometimes when I lay in bed, I can hear it. Trucks roaring by. The whoosh of tires against the pavement.

When I visit the house I grew up in, a large rural home surrounded by uninhabited acres along a little used road, I'm always amazed how quiet it is. I always sleep well there - not just because it's where I grow up (though that's part of it), but by how quiet it is. Crickets chirping outside the windows there seems deafening.

My best friend spent some time in Denali National Park in Alaska. He said there you could hear a breeze coming from a mile away.

There's nothing to say about it all really, except that I like quiet, and modern life has a lot of noise associated with it.

My library offers free ear plugs at the door. We go through a lot of them.


polar bear

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