That's Music to My Ears
From now on, I've decided to talk less and listen more. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Mills, would be so pleased I've finally grasped the concept. It's taken only 40 or so years.
I reached this decision the other day as I was walking home on a warm spring afternoon and passed a woman sweeping her front walk. She smiled at me but kept sweeping, her broom gently going whisk, whisk, whisk. My first thought was: Is there anything nicer than the sound of a sweeping broom on a spring afternoon? Great empires have turned to dust, but the pleasant sound of a woman sprucing up her walk is a joy eternal.
My next thought was: I should clam up more often so I can notice stuff like this. No telling how many wonderful, ordinary, -everyday sounds I miss owing to my own open mouth and a world that seems to grow louder, noisier and busier every day. Many times I have wanted to stop talking and find out what I truly believed, Walter Lippmann was supposed to have said. Amen, brother.
Consider birdsong at dawn. I walk to work at daybreak most days now listening to a chorus of amazing birds singing their hearts out in the tall pines of my neighborhood.
My only regret is that I can only identify a few purely by sound. So if you happen to be a bird expert who is willing to come to my house and walk with me to work at dawn some morning and help me match the song to the bird, why, I'd be most happy to buy you breakfast.
Come to think of it, the sound of a passing train is pretty nice too. An elderly relative in the country told me as a boy that the sound of a passing train was regarded with trepidation by some rural folk, the sound of young people leaving the farm, even a metaphor for death. But I never thought of trains this way at all. The sound of a passing train always stirs my wanderlust and makes me want to hop on board to see where it's headed.
I love the fact that half a dozen trains lumber through Southern Pines every day. It's one loud lumbering sound I love, and someday don't be surprised if I don't just hop on board to see where it's headed. I'll send you a postcard.
I took a walk through Weymouth Woods one Sunday morning recently before church, stopping off to feed a couple of carrots to a miniature pony named China whose pasture is on the way there, contributing only the sound of my footsteps along a sandy path to the noise of the wider world. I liked the sound of Sunday morning and just China munching carrots.
In Maine, where I lived 20 years, the sound of spring -peepers singing from a nearby bog in late March indicates that spring has finally come north. Theirs is a love song, said to be a search for a breeding mate - pure, unalloyed froggy love, what every four-legged amphibian's little green heart turns to in spring. The swamp courtship should be deafening about now.
For what it's worth, I also like the sound of a dog barking late at night - especially if it's a county or two away. Not so crazy about the one two yards away, though. Our house has old radiators that softly click or clank through a cold night. I've grown so accustomed to the sound that I'd probably have -difficulty falling asleep without them.
Who doesn't love the sound of good, honest laughter? Laughter is healing and infectious. Went to a friend's funeral the other day and heard the minister tell a charming story about how the lovely chap we'd gathered to honor once convinced him to perform a wedding rite in a small airplane a mile above the earth just before the groom bailed out and floated to earth. He had us all laughing out loud at Andy's unique take on life - brilliantly reminding us why we'll miss him.
Love the sound of driving with the car window down, wind softly roaring, especially through the country. Don't know why that is. In another life, suppose I might have been an old yeller dog or a watermelon going to market. When I was a little kid supposed to be napping, in an age before air-conditioning and steam irons, I used to lie on my bed listening to our maid, Jesse May, humming and ironing clothes. She hummed Baptist standards like "Old Rugged Cross" and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" as the water in her sprinkling bottle gently kept time - sloshing back and forth - followed by the thump of the iron and faint hiss of the ironed fabric. My determination to awake vanished pretty quick.
A good book's turning page - now, there's a fine and timeless sound. If I appear to doze off, however, please don't try and wake me. I'm just deeply -pondering a passage or -remembering Jesse May's sweet humming with my eyes shut.
'Fun Noisy Thoughts'
Sat with an older friend the other afternoon in his living room, looking at some letters from Civil War days. On the wall was an antique regulator clock emitting a slow and stately tick-tock.
"Is that the best sound in the world?" I asked him
"I've had that clock for 40 years," he said. "Time doesn't pass without that sound."
Ditto a baby sleeping. I used to love to sit with infants snoozing on my chest. But alas, I had the pleasure of sleeping infants for only a very short time. They soon grew up and learned to speak and went away to college. Now they phone for book fees. Call me nature's banker.
Not long ago in a science journal, I read that there is no such thing as true silence - that everything, even air itself, simply vibrates at a frequency beyond our human capacity to detect it. The Prophet Isaiah calls this phenomenon a still small voice. Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus believe the originating sound of the universe is the sound of "ohm." Hopi Indians believe all creation began as a pleasing song.
If I got invited to create the world all over, I'd start with a pleasing song like "Take Me out to the Ball Game" or maybe "America the Beautiful," which at the very least should be our national anthem. In a pinch I could go for The Beatles' "Across the Universe."
Speaking of baseball, don't you just love the crack of a real wooden bat? To many of us, nothing says spring quite like a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, two-on double off the right field wall that clears the bases, unless maybe it's a 60-foot downhill, slightly left-to-right downhill putt that wins the Masters.
In case hard numbers are more your thing than box scores or scorecards, you probably already know the story of how the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagor was strolling by a barn one day when he heard anvils being struck by hammers and realized the "notes" correlated to movements of the heavens and thus came up with his brilliant mathematical concept of the "music of the spheres." Why he also came up with that silly theorem that stumped -millions of future English majors like me is anybody's guess.
Screen doors closing on a beach house, the thump of my dog's tail when I speak to her, the happy noises my wife makes when she is cooking, sounds at dusk - I could go on with my list for a while.
The more I wander along life's path, on the other hand, the more I seem to crave silence, or nonsilence, or just a world with its volume slightly cranked down, though I'm pretty sure I couldn't make it for an entire month in a monastery maintaining complete personal ground silence.
"How'd you do it?" I asked my friend who did - and still goes away for a month at the start of every year to marinate in silence.
"I have a lot of fun noisy thoughts," he replied with a mischievous twinkle in his Irish eyes.
Spent a day once with a famous eccentric English grande dame in her kitchen -garden who claimed she could actually hear her plants in her garden growing. I once asked her what her fancy green beans were saying. "Bollocks if I know," she admitted. "They speak bloody French."
Anyway, Mrs. Mills, if you happen to read this, I'm finally beginning to appreciate how silence really may be golden after all, just as you told us so many years ago. I remember how you loved Abe Lincoln, who said it's better for an idiot to keep his mouth shut than to open it and remove all doubt. That faint gurgling you hear, by the way, is just my stomach telling me its time to go have lunch. Some sounds are timeless.
I'll have a silent bologna and cheese sandwich in honor of you.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, editor of PineStraw magazine and Sunday columnist with The Pilot, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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