Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Sound of Silence

One of the strangest things about being in my Chicago condo is the pervasive sound of silence. By that, I don't mean a total absense of sound. There are the usual creaks and groans of a decade-old building; the furnace blowing its hot, dry air to remind me that it is, indeed, still winter; voices and footsteps in the hallway of neighbors coming and going; and the roar of the occasional car in the parking lot.

But so many things are missing: the cheerful chirping of my bird, Bradley, greeting the morning sun; the cats' plantive meows that translate to "Play with me!", "Feed me!", or "Take me out for a walk!"; the sound of children's voices playing outside in t-shirts and shorts, heedless that in a Chicago March they'd still be bundled up; windchimes tinkling in the backyard; and (my favorite) the distant explosion of the Disney World fireworks every night.

As I lay in bed last night, the silence was deafening. It's always hard to get to sleep in a foreign environment like a hotel room, but somehow I didn't think that the same rule would apply to my old condo. It's a place where I'd spent nearly a decade of my life. How could it feel so foreign after only five weeks in Florida?

But there was no sense of familiarity at all. I missed the cats crawling all over the bed, jockeying for the bed position. The absense of windchimes reminded me that I had no yard, only a balcony overlooking the garages and dumpsters. I didn't hear the reassuring thump of the ice maker spitting out random cubes or the assorted nameless sounds that used to make me wonder before I finally got used to them.

When we first bought Duloc Manor and were spending scattered weekends there, I had that foreign feeling. The pets were absent, and I had no idea which of the symphony of strange sounds was being caused by which piece of machinery. The tick-tick-tick of the ceiling fan chain tapping the light fixture. The low electric hum of the air conditioner (or is that the refrigerator?). The spritzing sprinklers that come on at some ungodly hour of the night. These were all things that I learned to mentally catalog and classify in the "Safe" category, to be ignored as I drifted off to Dreamland. Soon enough, I didn't notice them on a conscious level any longer. The sprinklers didn't wake me up, and I didn't picture a crazed serial killer breaking in with the ice maker loudly disgorged another cube.

With the pets came a transplanted series of sounds; same noise, different environment. I was already used to the scratch-scratch of Stitch digging to China in the litterbox, the crackle of nails being sharpened on a sisal pole, the glub-glub of the goldfish gulping air on the surface of his bowl, and the squawking and metallic clanging of Bradley beating up the bird in his toy mirror. I had known those noises for year in Chicago, so it didn't seem odd to finally hear them in Florida.

It's odd how transient my Chicago condo seems now. It's like a wayside stop, a place to sleep while I mark the days before we return to Celebration. It seems odd that, after living in the condo for nearly ten years, my sense of "home" is gone.

There is one sound that I hear in Chicago that is conspicuously missing in Florida. It's the "woo hoo hoo" of the mourning doves that love to hang out on my balcony; occasionally, they even raise a family in my flower pots. Already, one appears to be building her nest. She doesn't realize how lucky she is that the feline predators are gone. In the past, when there were broods of baby birds, I remember the fun of trying to slip outside with my watering can to take care of my flowers without letting a furry body join me. "Birdie Incubation" was pretty much like "Cat TV." Back then, I had my old cats, Vinnie and Muse, and they would sit with their noses pressed up against the glass of the patio doors, making threatening machine-gun noises.

I enjoyed watching the birds, too. Mourning doves have a very interesting parenting process. During the day, mama sits on the eggs (and, eventually, the babies). Then, at night, dad comes to take his shift. The process by which they make the switch is fascinating. The "relief bird" flies onto the balony railing and slow sidles toward the nest. And I do mean slowly. Some nights I swear it took him 30 minutes to make it across the railing and relieve poor mama.

Because they nested in "active" flower boxes, I had to somehow get in some water at least once every couple of days. I would pour in the least amount possible to keep the flowers alive without soaking the poor birds. Sometimes the mourning dove would remain stonily in place, fixing me with a nervous stare. Other times, it would fly the coop temporarily, watching from the garage roofs below to see when I disappeared inside. Before the eggs were hatched, I worried if it took too long for the parent to return. How long could those tiny white baby-birds-to-be go without warmth? I would peek furtively out the window, anxious for the negligent dove to return. One year, only one of the eggs hatched, and I wondered whether my flower-watering had anything to do with it or whether it was simply a "dud."

This year, Mommy and Daddy Dove can raise their little family without any fear of feline interference. She won't even have to worry about the flowers, as my pots are empty and bare. Now I focus my gardening efforts in Florida, where I don't have to limit myself to six months of the year or less.

But other than the doves, all is silent as I sit on the couch and type. My husband had to go to work downtown, and I was so dead-tired that I didn't even hear him leave this morning. I guess that's a result of the 7 a.m. flight yesterday, combined with drinking iced tea after 6 p.m., which kept me up until the wee hours despite my inherent exhaustion.

It's Tuesday...only thee more days to go until I wing my way back to Florida. How good it will feel to be in a familiar space, among familiar sounds, to drown out the dreaded sounds of silence.

I can be contacted via email at celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration website is www.celebrationinfo.com

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