Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What's Shaking?

Back when I was living in Pennsylvania, we lived near a coal mine and a railroad track. Large trucks full of coal would go rumbling down the dirt road next to us and large mining machinery would excavate from not too far away. The railroad was extremely close and my childhood was spent at times exploring the rails for discarded ties. If you don't know what a tie is, it looks like a nail with a serious thyroid problem. It's huge and heavy and for some reason, I though picking these big, dirty, rusty, heavy nails up and carrying them home was really cool.

On a few rare occasions the trucks would go around the turns of the road too quickly and turn over. This resulted in quite the racket as this massively heavy truck and all of its sooty cargo thumped to the ground. It wasn't unusual for the trucks or equipment to send shock waves through the ground as they did their thing. This would result in some small shaking in our house from time to time. Also, no small amount of dust was kicked up on the road, particularly in the summer. The dust would come in through our open windows and leave a film all over our furniture on a regular basis.

An office affiliated with the mining operation was about a mile or so behind our property and the people who worked there would sometimes fly in helicopters over our house. Because the approach was relatively near, the helicopters often came in or went out low and we could hear them loudly overhead. Despite growing up in a rural area and in relative isolation from other people, we heard our fair share of noise from the loud train whistles and engines to the rumbling trucks to the sound of distant explosions on occasion from mining operations. And even though we lived in an area where there were no earthquakes, it wasn't uncommon for our house to shake.

Now, I live in a place about as far removed from my rural upbringing as possible. I've gone from living in a house where visiting the nearest neighbor required a 15 minute walk or a hop in the car to a place where my neighbors are so close that their conversations in front of their homes sound like they're taking place in my living room. I don't even need a car for life in a metropolis. While I used to live with a huge lawn both in front and behind my house and woods nearby, I now see nothing but concrete punctuated by the odd gingko or osmanthus tree.

Despite all of these differences, some things apparently remain the same. I don't know why, but low-flying helicopters seem to pass over my apartment. Sometimes, they are low enough that they cause my building to vibrate and the glass doors in the living room to rattle. Also, Tokyo smog and my proximity to a major road seem to leave my apartment coated with dust on a near hourly basis just like the dust from dirt roads did back when I was a kid. Lately, there has also been construction going on not too far from my apartment. I can hear the banging of heavy machinery in the distance and my kitchen scale, which rattles a little when shaken, seems to be rattling on a regular basis these days. If I lived a little closer to JR and could hear the train, it'd be just like growing up all over again.

3 comments:

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same... :)

I live about 1/2 mile from train tracks and can hear it clearly in my house. Likewise, I live about 1/2 mile from some university ball fields and can hear the announcer like they are right in the house with me. That's with the windows closed and air conditioner running. Add to that I live about two blocks from the fire station and we hear sirens at all hours. Thankfully they don't use the sirens until they get out on the main road.

I don't think it is possible to find any peace anymore.

1tess said...

Your post got me thinking about our house in the Keweenaw Peninsula. A mansion built for copper mine executives in the 1890's (?), it had 3 floors, with 4 bedrooms—and several rooms on the third floor we did not use nor heat, hot water radiators (remember those heavy old-time iron radiators?), and a stoker-fed coal-fired boiler for heat. Across the road from the house was a dock on Torch lake where Great Lakes boat unloaded coal for processing "stamp sand" (low grade material for extracting copper). The boats would come up through Portage Lake to unload coal from "out east" (perhaps even Pennsylvania?). There was a train that took the coal from the boats to the stamping plant and the tracks ran along our property line. I remember the train whistles as they approached the highway: Toooooo ,Tooooo, toot, Tooooo.
I was a mis-fit young teen, and they sounded both lonely and hopeful, sad and full of possibilities of business beyond the insufferably small town where I felt trapped.

Helen said...

When we settled back in Alberta, we lived on a farm in a mobile home. We were within 100 metres of highway 16 (a major Canadian highway) and 200 metres of a train shunting point.

We got used to the house shaking from the big trucks or the trains doing their thing. It was always noisy where we lived. There were also many accidents along the highway, most notable was a gasoline tanker that turned over and caught fire.

Apart from the constant Takkyubin deliveries and the person who delivers the newspaper at 4:30 am and parks his motorcycle right outside my bedroom window, my apartment is relatively quiet, compared to what I grew up with!

By the way, where I come from, we call the big blocks of wood that are used to hold the train rails in place "ties". At first when you wrote about searching for ties, I thought you must have been immensely strong!