August 11, 2011 by Sarojini Seupersad
There are a lot of benefits to living in New York City, but as all New Yorkers know – there are also tons of drawbacks. Every single morning, I am woken up by the fury of several loud, complaining, shaking delivery trucks driving by my second floor apartment bedroom window. It’s the sound of 10,000 pounds of screeching metal, hollow copper pipes hitting hollow steel pipes, heavy sliding cargo, moving car parts, jumping tires meeting uneven pavement and what sounds like jet engines – all violently going 60 miles an hour down a sidestreet in Brooklyn. The concert of metal against metal scares me out of my sleep in such a way that I bolt out of bed and jump to the window – a mere foot away – to check for the World War or Mad Max-style apocalypse that must be going on outside. But as usual, I only see a series of large, colorful delivery trucks driving down my grey Bushwick street, so I roll my eyes and relax. Sigh. All is well. It’s just those damn trucks again. When will I get used to this ruckus? Three more years? Five more? Why every morning, guys? Why?
I’ve considered getting ear plugs, but oddly enough, without this ungracious, unscheduled alarm, I’d probably sleep too long and miss the unique early morning sounds. I know this sounds corny, but I really like the quiet of the morning, when everyone else is still asleep. Living in a large city like New York, it’s hard to find yourself surrounded by perfect silence; so quiet you can hear the birds chirping. I can only hear the birds in the early morning from my kitchen on the other side of my apartment, which overlooks the backyard of my apartment building. In other words, while I’m living here, I’ll never, ever be woken up by the sound of birds singing. Unless I sleep in the kitchen.
The birds keep to the backyard because, unlike me, they know how to live. My short, bald, not-so-friendly downstairs neighbor, with the tiny white dog, knows what he’s doing too; he’s fashioned the backyard as a green, lush, soft oasis away from the grey, cement starkness of our Brooklyn street. His backyard has tall trees against the back gate so he doesn’t have to see the adjoining backyard with the concrete slabs and adventurous chickens; climbing flowering ivy on the side fence so as not to see the other neighbor’s interesting backyard (read: junkyard); colorful flowers scattered everywhere; plants in terracotta pots; exotic bushes with smooth, dark, waxy leaves and lazy neighborhood cats basking in the summer sunshine, swatting the flies as they get too close. He even planted sunflowers. Sunflowers! They look taller than me – but in all fairness, I’m not very tall. With the backdrop of a million different shades of green, you’d never even notice the electrical wires or the cables – were it not for the fact that the birds and squirrels perch on them occasionally. It’s a natural wonderland in a wonderless place.
Waking up to delivery truck jet engines is confusing and jarring, but not listening to the birds in the morning from my second-floor fire escape as I sip my coffee, would be a lost opportunity to observe nature in a seriously nature-lacking environment. The birds sing all day, sure, but only in the early morning, overlooking the backyard, is the day still quiet, sleepy, solitary and personal… and mine. No one else is awake. They’re singing just for me. As the day moves on from early morning to rise and shine, doors begin to slam, conversation is overheard, music is played, police sirens whir, dogs bark, cars drive by and the neighborhood abruptly wakes up, yet the sound of birds doesn’t disappear. In fact, the birdsong seems to get louder and louder and less melodic – almost as if they are trying to out-noise the noise. Maybe they’re screaming at each other or trying to be heard over the competition, or simply validating their existence as songbirds. After all, if they stop singing, what are they? Where are they? On bright, sunshiney days, the cacophonous songs never stop and I try to listen as aptly as I can, through the noise of the city. I understand how they feel as I go back inside my apartment, to stare at the blank screen on my computer. Everyone needs validation once in a while. Everyone needs to be noticed. Look at me. Hello? I’m standing here. Right in front of you. You may not know me, but you should listen to my song.
Inside, I get to work at my computer, which feels like the polar opposite of nature. I sit myself right in front of an open window in the kitchen, so I can still hear, smell and see the misplaced, magical backyard of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Periodically, I feel a whispery, summer breeze that slowly teases the hair out of my face and tickles my nose like a blade of grass, and I look forward to the day where I won’t have to look down from the second-floor kitchen window to be part of a magical garden. Soon enough, I’ll have a garden of my own and I’ll feel it between my toes, not through a pane of glass.