Top 5 Things You’ll Learn If You Read This Whole Thing.
- The world outside the commune is loud.
- My wife does not like to be awoken early.
- What I’m hearing isn’t imaginary.
- A scary amount of people think there are aliens inside the earth.
- Librarians are good people.
Horton heard a who. However, I hear a hum.
I noticed the hum for the first time last week while I was sitting on the back deck in a teak Adirondack chair sipping my morning coffee == Water Avenue’s Brazil Fazenda California, which excels in the grind-your-own-beans arena with taste notes of rich chocolate, malt and toasted nuts.
The world was sleeping. I was not. I’m an early riser by nurture. When you grow up on a commune, you learn to naturally awake early before someone wakes you up far less gently. People who sleep late drag down everyone in the commune. By the time Hippie Mom, she of the butt-length wavy blond hair and constant wearer of culturally appropriated moccasins, sat us down for our daily homeschool lessons, we’d already been awake and working for three of four hours.
This is nurture and not nature, and I say that because the three children who sprang forth at least partly because of me — Franz, 18; Hans, 17; and Helga, 15 — did not grow up on a commune and have a decidedly non-commune work ethic that would bring them to consciousness just in time for lunch, were it up to them. And thanks to my late-rising wife, Flaca, sometimes it is.
So yes, I was alone with my coffee and thoughts the other morning as the sun boldly peeked over the horizon and the birds began chirping a variety of songs that somehow melded into one beautiful melody. A not-inconsiderable breeze pushed its way through the trees, rustling the leaves, and, truthfully, I was thinking about the commune.
It’s been 33 years since I left, 28 since I went back for the final time to find it abandoned, 27 since I left my last footprint in The Clearing. It took me a long time to adapt to this world. Truth be told, I’m still adapting. Things move so fast out here, and the things we humans create make so much noise.
The first night off the commune, I didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes. I had simply walked away from everything I had known, accepted a ride from a leftover hippie Hippie Mom would have loved. His name was Frank. He was a late-’80s holdover from Hippie Mom’s generation who was stoned out of his mind and thankfully wasn’t the one in the group who was driving. The whole vanload of us parked in the lot of a drug store that night, and people curled up wherever they could. As a newbie who had met these folks less than two hours before, I tucked myself on the floor in front of the front-passenger seat and tried to catch some Z’s.
It was futile. Car engines and horns, sirens from emergency vehicles, airplanes starting to make their final approach to sprawling airports many times the size of the commune, too-old transformers on weathered poles subtly crackling with electricity, garage doors going up and down on nearby houses, even noise from people dropping change on the pavement. I heard it all.
We humans make a terrific racket.
When you’re used to commune life in which there’s a generally accepted practice to make no sound after dark except for idle talk and whatever the Hippie Moms and Hippie Dads felt the need to put out into the world while making future commune members, well, let’s just say it’s a change.
I have been trying to escape the noise every since. I now live about a mile away from the nearest human being, which is nice, but it’s still not the same. I slowly have come to accept a certain base level of sound. But on this morning, however, there was a new noise.
I admit it. I stuck a finger in each ear in an attempt to wrangle free any bit of wax that might be affecting my hearing.
Ya know how if I told you not to think of a white elephant, you would think of a white elephant? Once you’ve heard Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, you can’t not hear it.
I stood up, took my coffee to the deck railing, searched for the sound of the river in the distance, thinking it might somehow re-center me. I found it, faint but there. And so was the Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
I went inside for a few minutes to give the sound a chance to buzz off. When I opened the door to return to the deck, it welcomed me back.
Maybe this was just a backyard thing. I quietly descended the deck stairs and wound my way around our house to the edge of our gravel driveway.
I ran back around the house, trying to catch the sound playing games with me. It was there. Ran back to the front. It was there.
It was everywhere.
Now, I know Flaca doesn’t like to be awoken early in the morning, with “early” being defined as “before 9 a.m.” It’s not that she’s, oh, shall we say, demonic if roused before that hour, but it’s certainly a step or two below pleasant. She knows that I don’t wake her up unless there’s some sort of emergency, and as a 50-year-old man, I thought “hearing previously unheard sounds” was sufficient enough to cross the “emergency” threshold.
“Flaca! Flaca!” I scream-whispered, sitting down on the bed beside her prone form and shaking her shoulder gently. Or, at least, gently-ish.
“Whaaaaa?” my beautiful bride replied, using the back of her hand to knock loose a strand of drool that ran from cheek to pillow.
“Flaca! I’m hearing things. Come outside.”
“Queso, what in the hell are you talking about?” As I said, not demonic, but certainly not pleasant.
“I’m hearing …. I’m hearing,…” me, searching for words. “I’m hearing a sound! Just get up and come outside.”
The will to keep her head up failed, and her cheek splashed down in the drool puddle.
“Flaca! This is important! Get up!” The shaking was definitely not gently-ish now.
“Oh for crap’s sake, Queso. You’re not having a stroke or anything, are you?” She was giving off a distinct vibe that told me even if I was having a stroke, it would be a good time to attempt to treat it with some self-care.
“I just might be, honey! Get up. Please. Before the sound goes away!”
At this, she raised her head again. “Well, if you’re hearing a sound you don’t want to hear, wouldn’t it be, like, a good thing if it went away?”
She opened her eyes for the first time in this conversation, deep brown and eye-booger-encrusted. And then she smiled brightly.
God, I love that woman.
Two minutes later, I stood on the deck with Flaca, her long, jet-black hair sticking out in all directions. I put my ear into the wind and cupped it with my hand, an invitation for her to do the same. She was not RSVPing.
“Do you hear that? Do you hear it?”
“Hear what, Queso?”
“That goddamn hum!”
“You’re hearing a hum?”
“Yes, Flaca. A freaking hum.”
“I don’t hear any hum.”
I turned to face her fully, my eyes wide. “How can you not hear that hum? That hum is… it’s…. it’s everywhere.”
Those deep brown eyes, recently wiped eye-booger-free, showed a tender expression of care and concern. “Honey. I love you. I do. But if you ever wake me up this early again to hear a non-existent hum, I’m going to carve you up and feed you to the bears.”
OK, so maybe a little demonic.
She shuffled back inside, the door closing purposefully behind her.
I saw her three hours later when she awoke of her own volition for the first time that day and shot me an angry glance as she shuffled into the kitchen for her own daily cup of coffee. The glance carried a clear message: The hum was not to be a topic of conversation until the coffee was consumed, and even then it might not be a wise thing to mention.
While she was working out her own inner demons, I got dressed and drove out to the local public library, where I am always greeted in a whispered version of how Norm from Cheers was welcomed to the bar. And my replies back are typically just as witty.
Not this day.
“I’m hearing a hum,” I said to Winnie upon entry. Winnie is the head librarian, the only paid staff member, as far as I know. She’s a bespectacled septuagenarian who would rather die behind the counter checking out a book for a patron than in the comfort of her own bed surrounded by family.
“You’re hearing a what?” Winnie whispered, waving me in with an arthritis-stricken left hand. The right is even worse.
“A hum,” I repeated. “Do you have anything on hums?”
“On hums.” A statement of concern, not a question.
“Yes. On hums. Like… hums in the air. Hums outside. Hums that apparently only I can hear.”
“Oh, Queso. If you’re hearing things, you should really be going to the emergency room, not the library, dear.”
I was rapidly losing my patience. “I don’t need a doctor. I need information.”
Which was pretty much my response to anything and would have been my response even if I were having an issue that required urgent medical care. It’s just who I am.
“Information on… hums?” she said, her eyebrows pinched together in concern and uncertainty.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, Winnie. On hums.”
“Do you hear the hum now?”
I paused. I hadn’t heard the hum since I got in my car and headed over here. I was so focused on getting inside the library, I wasn’t sure if it had followed me. “It’s an outside hum.”
“An outside hum?” she repeated, her eyeglasses sliding down to the end of her nose.
“Yes, an outside hum. Of course I hear a hum in here. You’ve got copiers and air conditioning and computers. There’s always a hum in here. Those are inside hums. This is an outside hum.”
“There’s a difference?”
“Yes, there’s a difference!” I said, far too loudly for the library. A far-away patron shushed me from a safe space of anonymity somewhere behind shelves of books, and Winnie shot me a look of warning. She might be in her 70s, but she takes the whole whisper-in-the-library thing as serious as Flaca takes her sleep. I lowered my voice and continued. “The inside hum makes sense. The outside hum is new.”
“It’s a new hum, this outside hum?”
“Yes, it’s a new hum.”
“What does this hum sound like?”
“Like…. like… oh, I dunno. Like a hum. Like…. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
“Wow. That’s quite a hum,” Winnie replied. Whether she was sympathizing or mocking, I do not know. Winnie can be quite the cut-up when she wants to be.
“So do you have anything on hums?”
“Of course I have things on hums, Queso. We’re the public library. We have things on everything.” Which, to me, sounded like something Willie Wonka might say right before a tour-goer got maimed in some horrible way accompanied by song.
She came around the desk and led me over to one of the computers available for public use. It was still early, and most of the machines were available. Later, when the temperature soared, the people without homes would come inside to get a break from the heat and look up things on the Internet, much of which should never be displayed on a screen in public. Winnie always was kind but firm in steering these folks to more productive and less reproductive websites.
The librarian slid carefully into one of the uncomfortable chairs. Winnie knows I don’t do computers but grudgingly accept that they sometimes provide access to more current and readily available information than the books on the shelves — and let me just emphasize the word grudgingly here.
Within moments she had called up an article from the land of our former colonial overlords entitled “What is the mysterious ‘global hum’ — and is it simply noise pollution?”
“Whenever I wake up it is there and it is unbelievably loud,” says Simon Payne, a British name if ever there was one. The 55-year-old from Cambridgeshire is a hearer of what, evidently, is a “mysterious global phenomenon” that I am now a part of known as the Hum, capital H. “When nobody else can hear it you think you are going nuts, and it just wears you down,” he added.
“Print that off for me, Winnie,” I asked nicely.
“Wouldn’t you rather just sit down and read it on here?” she replied, looking back at me. I glanced down at her, and she smiled. “Of course you wouldn’t. Just a moment, dear.”
She hit a few keys and a new hum joined the overall indoor hum, that of the laser printer behind the counter. Winnie never charges me for copies, and I donate food to their annual food drive and labor to help fix up the place whenever they don’t feel like going to the town council for approval of the expense. It’s a fair deal that both of us never talk about.
According to the article, this stupid Hum is said to cause symptoms that range from headaches to insomnia — dear lord please never let Flaca be afflicted with this — and dizziness.
In 2004, a geoscientist named David Deming, who is identified as “a Hum hearer himself” investigated and found the earliest reliable report of the noise is from the 1970s. Though a Hum Hearer (that second H deserves capitalization if we are, indeed, an identifiable group, I would argue), Deming was unable to find the source of the noise.
Not surprisingly, whacko conspiracy theorists (which I say while acknowledging I believe some conspiracy theories are far more than theories) have attributed the Hum to underground aliens, among other things.
I’d much rather an “I dunno” than underground aliens, and I imagine you would too.
The article ends with “Ultimately, the Hum remains a mystery.”
Well gee, thanks.
The print-out did, however, have a few underlined words in red (Winnie always gives me color copies, much to my delight) that she refers to as a “hyperlink.” I took the printed page over to the desk, where Winnie sat checking in a stack of books.
“Can you click on this thingy?” I asked, pointing out the red words, “World Hum Map and Database.”
“The story is still up on that computer, Queso. You can do…” And then she started the journey around the desk back to the machine.
This map is covered with tiny blue dots that indicate a self-reporting of the Hum. Hum Hearers all over the world are hearing the Hum, and they’re not happy about it. Winnie randomly clicked on a dot, which brought up the full details of the report.
From a female Hum Hearer near the northern border of Colorado.
What is your age? 44
Please describe the sound: Constant low idling truck noise.
You live in: House in an isolated location.
I felt a bond with this Hum Hearer.
From a 19-year-old male Hum Hearer in El Salvador:
Please describe the sound: Hum.
I’m going to assume the desire for details was lost somewhere in translation.
You would describe yourself as: A little bit overweight.
The more Winnie moved the scroll-thing around the map of the world, the more panicked I became. This Hum was a thing. A real thing. A thing that other people heard.
“Come outside with me Winnie.”
“Queso… are you OK?”
“Yes, I’m OK. Now let’s go outside.”
“But the other patrons…”
“They’ll be fine,” I replied. “If anyone’s life is drastically affected by the unmet need for an urgent book checkout, it’s on me.” And I all but grabbed her and shoved her out the door.
I waited for it to close behind me and strained to hear what I hoped was silence.
“You hear that? You hear that, right? Please tell me you hear that.”
“Hear what, Queso?”
“The hum! That Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
“The only thing I hear is that bird,” she said, pointing to a Cooper’s hawk perched on the highest treetop just beyond the parking lot
I dropped my chin to my chest, pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. I felt like crying. My shoulders sagged.
And then I felt Winnie’s comforting hand on my back, rubbing in a clockwise circle like I’m sure she does to her grandkids if they’re scared of a thunderstorm in the night when they’re staying at me-maw and paw-paw’s house.
“It’s OK, Queso,” she said soothingly. “We’ll read more about this and then you’ll know everything there is to know about this hum.” She paused. I looked up and into her watery blue eyes, the right one slightly fogged by cataracts. “You know how much better you always feel when you’ve learned about something that scares you, right?”
And she was right. Of course she was. Librarians tend to be right about a lot of things.
We went back inside. She sat down in front of the computer, and I pulled up a chair to join her. We spent — no joke — five hours poking through the internet to learn more about this hum, and she helped me create my own dot on the World Hum Map.
So far, I’m symptom-free. No headaches, no insomnia, no dizziness. I still go outside with my coffee every morning. I’m trying to treat the Hum like a new person in my life, someone I’ve just met and with whom I have gotten off on the wrong foot.
I still hear the birds. I still hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees. I can still smell my coffee. And as long as I can do things like that, I think I’m going to be OK.
Q.F. Conseco is the relative of website owner and Storyteller-in-Chief John Agliata. He lives outside Escandido, California, near the Hellhole Canyon Preserve with his wife, Flaca, and their three children, Franz, Hans and Helga. All three are homeschooled and extremely unsocial. Q.F. is a singer, songwriter and poet when he is not working as a trimmer for a large medical marijuana growing operation in Humboldt County, California. He is a Hum Hearer.
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