Advertisement

UR Here: Iowa City as the tonic chord in the sounds of home


Photo by Lauren Haldeman

The return is central to the relationship with home. When we fit back into the familiar, we know we are home. A good practice of home expands our perception of the familiar on that return.

If you have read this column for any length of time, you may remember that my family and I often take summer trips to the Minnesota North Woods. We did again this year, though in May, still truly spring near the Boundary Waters. In recent years, I have been opening my ears up as a primary conduit to my boreal forest experience. One of my favorite activities is to sit on the cabin’s screened-in porch, close my eyes and just listen.

It goes without saying that the soundscape on the return home to Iowa is different. So also in recent years, in addition to the typical ceremonies of returning home to the familiar—such as cutting the grass and going through accumulated mail—I have paid close attention to the auditory world I am reentering. And in so doing, I have grown to embrace the Iowa City soundscape as a tonic chord in my affection for home.

The northern May nights on Sundew Pond are resplendent with the symphony of spring peepers and their jubilant glissandos. A common counterpoint amidst this chorus is the eerie, plaintive yet insistent whooping of a lonely pied-billed grebe. If we’re lucky, we’ll also hear a distant song of mystery from a howling wolf pack echoing across the pond’s waters.

These are the exotic sounds we relish in the northern night. But I feel a profound satisfaction in returning to the familiar sounds of my Iowa City summer backyard night. The peeper chorus is now the undulating cricket chorale. The mysterious wail of the grebe transforms to the stately, reedy hoo-hoo-hoo-hooooo of the neighborhood barred owl in a nearby tree. The wolf howl becomes the throaty bark of our greyhound at some imagined disturbance in our dark yard. I even welcome back the familiar squeak of our metal storm door as I let one of our dogs out, supplanting the woody slam of the Minnesota cabin’s screen door as someone makes a late-night foray to the outhouse.

Our small urban milieu here in eastern Iowa clearly generates a much more artificial soundscape than the wilderness of Sundew Pond. But even reintegrating with the sonic trappings of my modern life in Iowa City is a welcome part of coming back home. While I love to focus my ears on the robin and cardinal song on a typical Iowa summer morning in town, I also feel a sense of satisfaction when I hear the predictable rough hum of the bus’ engine approaching my stop on Friendship Street as I trek back to work. As I walk across the university’s Pentacrest to my office, that same robin and cardinal song might float above the loud drone of a mower trimming the campus grass. Even the background whooshing of Jessup Hall’s air handler reclaims me as I settle into my desk chair. And I know I’m home when the day is punctuated by the airy, strident steam whistle blaring from the power plant at eight, noon, one and five.

Our relationship with home relies so much on what we see. But our local landscape has many more sensory dimensions, which we often ignore. A return offers us the opportunity to re-sense our relationship with place. For me, the Iowa City soundscape has helped me reconnect, and connect with even greater awareness and depth.

Thomas Dean admittedly is not happy when a neighbor cuts the grass at nine o’clock on a summer night. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 222.


Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV » editor@littlevillagemag.com

Advertisement

Iowa City Book Festival

Oct. 18-24

A celebration of books, writing and ideas

Find Out More

Advertisement

Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!

The Future is Unwritten

You look to Little Village for today’s stories. Your sustaining support will help us write tomorrow’s.

Regular

$10/mo or $120/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.

Italic

$20/mo or $240/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.

Bold

$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
LittleVillageMag.com connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.