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Summit Up


Good morning and welcome to Summit Up, the world’s only daily column listening to the different hums around our house.

The refrigerator is humming an F sharp ” except when the icemaker switches on and belts out a low C for a few minutes.

The laptop is much softer, but it’s still always making a sonic contribution, even when the fan is off. The whirr of an Apple iBook is subtle, somewhat like the woody overtone of an expensive wine: consciously perceptible only to those who pay close attention.

The bathroom fan, on the other hand, bellows, demanding attention. Transient sounds like the furnace and the hot water heater click on and off, sometimes eliciting a dramatic reaction from the cat’s ears.

The constant presence of all this ambient noise fascinates us. Back before Thomas Edison had all his bright ideas, humans were never subjected to this particular kind of sensory overload.

In our culture, we tend to make a big deal about outdoor noise. The law requires us to muffle our car’s exhaust. All in all, that’s probably a good thing. Imagine for a minute what cities would be like if all the vehicles sounded like Harley-Davidson hogs.

But how about the refrigerator? What protects us from that constant hum? And what happens when the Kenmore’s F sharp clashes with the G of the dishwasher and the C of the microwave? Do we slowly and inexorably go crazy?

Some experts think we do. Although most acoustic biologists agree that the human brain is highly skilled at filtering and ignoring most annoying noises, there are also some who worry about the subtle effects of all this sensory input we’re subject to even when we don’t consciously notice it.

It’s possible, some say, for a dissonant chord formed by the combination of your refrigerator, your furnace and your fan to wear on your subconscious so much that you become depressed or chronically anxious.

Think about it: When we try to understand the insane criminals showcased on programs broadcast on the TruTV network, we usually think along the lines of, “They must have had hard childhoods,” or, “Their genetic makeup predisposed them to violence.”

What if it’s all a lot simpler and more immediate than that? What if the constant sounds coming from their kitchens drove them off their rockers?

The solution to this problem has been suggested by more than one New Age environmental consultant. Evaluate the sounds in your house, they say, and bring them into harmony. If the F sharp refrigerator creates dissonance with everything else, get a new refrigerator.

That may seem a bit impractical, but if an antisocial crime spree is your alternative, it’s probably worth it to harmonize the house.

Most of us, we think, solve the problem by drowning it out. We play music, turn on the television, or just leave the iPod earphones on 24/7.

We’ve come to believe that’s a temporary solution at best. And, ultimately, we think it just substitutes one set of problems for another.

No, we think the best step to take is getting away from as much of the mechanical noise as possible. Take the headphones off and get out of the house altogether. Listen instead to the wind, the sounds of crows and the silence.


It’s Friday, folks, and we’re hiking up French Gulch, listening to the snow melt.

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