it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

We live tucked into a hillside on a dead-end road in a small rural community. Our valley lies between Main Street and Mountain View, streets named for the little town center and surrounding vistas within walking distance of our home. Ours is a small neighborhood of modest houses that sit just above the road. Something about the lay of the land makes for a breeze that blows year-round. Since COVID-19 restrictions have kept our household—and others—close to home, we’ve been getting to know the sounds of the neighborhood. There is the generator that runs the air-conditioning unit of the mobile home across the street. We can’t see the house from our porch, but I can hear evidence of its inner workings. When we first moved in, I wondered whether the motor’s steady hum would prove distracting. Four months of quarantine later, I am grateful for the evidence of things unseen.

In addition to the generator, we can hear a crew of neighborhood dogs from the front porch. Some holler at all hours. Both day and night, it is lovely to live in a dog-greet-dog world. We need never worry about our boys making too much noise. Everyone’s dogs make too much noise. While there is little car traffic, we can sometimes hear vehicles on the road above ours or neighbors parking tractors and farm trucks on the hillside across the street. The teenagers who live below us like to pretend the cul-de-sac is a destination worth speeding towards and we occasionally hear motors revving as young folks make their way home. These commotions aside, the neighborhood is mostly quiet. Bird song. Leaves rustling. The occasional lawn mower. And the sound of conversation that carries farther than you’d think.

A few weeks ago, a new set of sounds began filtering through the trees, traveling into earshot from the house on the other side of the open lot just past the old barn. We don’t know the family that lives there, but they have become an integral part of our quarantine thanks to their newfound commitment to outdoor karaoke. We haven’t met the family in question, but we believe this to be an intergenerational household. Most evenings as we sit down to dinner, these beloveds head outside to share their pandemic practice with the neighborhood. It’s not that they’re intentionally loud—noise travels in mysterious ways across mountains and hollers. But at both regular and random hours of the day, this family is booting up its machine and making a joyful noise—for themselves and for us all.

It is true that our neighbors are not destined for musical greatness. On the contrary. And yet, listening for this family has become a quarantine lifeline. For several days in a row, their singing will accompany our evening meal and turn a table-for-two into a neighborhood dinner party with a reliably quirky soundtrack. We haven’t been tempted to join in yet, but the pandemic is far from over. I am already excited to meet this family once restrictions ease. It already feels like we’re more than neighbors, even though we haven’t officially met. Somehow, this karaoke machine is transforming how we see and hear one another in this little valley—one off-key rendition of something we can’t quite make out at a time. And that might be how we make it through this season–together.