The Sounds of San Francisco

We often don’t pay a lot of attention to the sounds around us—especially if a spouse is talking. Partners aside, I love many of the sounds of our home town, San Francisco. Some of these are:

Fog horns. Some people find them annoying and claim that the fog horns blowing across the Bay area keeps them awake at night. Yet I love it when I wake up at night and their comforting sound lulls me back asleep. I know that if the horns are blowing at night, I’ll probably wake up to see a beautiful fog in the morning (yep, I like the fog too). We have multiple fog horns, each with their own distinctive sound. I haven’t yet found a guide to where they all are, so if you know anything about the various horns, please comment to this blog. All of the horns have a fairly low pitch and make a sound similar to when you blow over the mouth of a bottle. Some are slightly higher pitch than others and some are a little longer than others. I understand they were stopped for a while before we moved here, but after numerous complaints, they started back up. While not everyone loves them as I do, they are a distinct part of living here.

Wild Parrots. Wild Parrots outside my windowYou may remember the documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” of a man in San Francisco that fed wild parrots. He no longer feed them, but yes, there really are wild parrots in San Francisco. One can find these unexpected creatures camouflaged in their favorite trees or flying overhead. They announce their presence with a loud (and somewhat annoying) squawking sound. But they are so beautiful and unique that you forgive their noisy intrusion in your world. This picture is of them eating berries right outside my home office window. Yes, they are that close and yes, we see them frequently.

Sea Lions. I admit, sea lions are a blessing and a curse. They are smelly creatures that took over the boat docks on Pier 39 many years ago and lie there sunning themselves and making….well…sea lion noises. Arf, arf, arf. Tourists love them and flock to Pier 39 to watch them sun themselves on the docks. At night, we often hear their arfing (is there such a word?), when the wind is right and the sound travels up Russian Hill to our open bedroom windows. Like the fog horns, one becomes used to the sounds. When the sea lions started to disappear from Pier 39 in 2009, it became very quiet at night. They’re back now and it sounds like home again.

San Francisco Cable Cars. I’ll always remember walking downtown while talking to Tom’s sister on the phone when a cable car passed me by. “Wait a minute” I said. “I can’t hear you over the clanging bell of the cable car”. She thought that was so cool (and so do I). On one hand, the bell sounds like the ice cream man that used to come through my neighborhood when I was a kid. On the other hand, once you live around cable cars, you recognize the ding ding that signifies when the cable car is ready to move after picking up a passenger. And what would San Francisco be without its cable cars (if you haven’t visited it, check out the free cable car museum that gives you a history of the cars and gives you insight into how they work).

Cruise Ships. Especially in the summer, small cruise ships come and go in the Bay almost daily. I love to watch the pattern of one ship leaving in the morning and another one taking its place in the afternoon. Each time a boat comes and goes, it blows its warning horn. Fortunately, we are far enough away from them that it is muted. But it is loud enough so as to call us to our window to watch the boat maneuver in or out of the dock.

Yes, we also hear more normal city sounds: car traffic, the garbage trucks making their 7 AM pickup, our water sprinklers going off during the night, our neighbors trying to quietly enter their house at 2 AM, and our upstairs neighbor when he comes home from a trip. But that is city life. We wouldn’t trade it.

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