The Quietest Place: Suburban Detroit

This post is part of The Art Assignment #5, The Quietest Place.

I spent the first two decades of my life in very rural environments–I grew up in western Colorado, miles from anywhere, then attended college in Virginia on a campus with thousands of acres of woods, away from any major cities. In those environments, it was never very difficult to find quiet places.

Then there my small city in the Philippines, where quiet was practically nonexistent. You can’t cram so many people into such a small space without hearing your neighbors washing laundry, or having a busy street right outside your window.

And now? Suburban Michigan. Oh, how I resisted moving here. What could possibly be less glamorous?
I came around on the subject of Michigan, and I love living here now. But I hadn’t really confronted the idea of the suburbs until this assignment. The assignment was to take a walk from your home and find the quietest place, then absorb and document it. I actually began my walk at my inlaws’ house, because that was what worked for me. So here it is: the quietest place in my inlaws’ neighborhood.

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Or is it? The first thing I discovered when I started walking is that noise is fairly homogenous in the suburbs. Once I moved away from the busy roads, it was a thin soup of dogs barking, robins chirping, cars passing, and always, somewhere, someone using a power tool.

It was really hard to find a quiet place. Every time I thought I had, a dog would start barking at me, or a car would pass, or standing still would cause me to hear the wind chimes I’d missed while I was walking.

I walked for an hour. It was Easter Sunday, and as I walked, I slowly began to become amazed by how much of people living I was observing. I heard a lot of radios, and because the weather was so lovely that windows were open, I caught a lot of snippets of people’s Easter celebrations–well wishes, arguments, complaining, and several parents stepping out onto the front porch to smoke and escape from their kids for a minute.

I’ve somehow always thought of suburban neighborhoods as faceless blocks of houses with no personality or distinguishing features; I had a lot of contempt for them, in fact. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but it wasn’t until this walk that it clicked for me: Every house has people in it. All of those people have stories. Every single nearly identical house is absolutely filled up with the stories of people living their lives. They’re people who have buried parents, who worry about their children’s developmental milestones, who like yellow mustard but not brown.

There is no quietest place in a neighborhood like this. People’s lives are moving through it constantly, leaving ripples. I realized, I wasn’t looking for the quietest place: I was looking for the quietest moment.

So, after an hour of walking spanning a couple of miles, I finally stopped, just two blocks from where I started, and waited. And for a few moments, there were no dogs barking, no cars passing, no one mowing their lawn or calling to their kids.

So, here it is. Two photographs of a still moment between the waves of life on an Easter Sunday in Michigan.

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