"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This post feels very unfinished and kind of skeletal to me, but I'm putting it up anyway.  See, SWoF, I really did start writing over the weekend...and this is proof!  But unlike weekly columnists, I haven't anything in reserve, and it all fell through earlier this week when my cat, Molly, became dreadfully ill; I just got her from the vet's this morning.  We're hoping the illness has run its course.  Meanwhile, I'm keeping a close eye on her.  So we'll see what tomorrow's SWoF's prompts will bring...and meanwhile, as I said, here's something I've been fooling around with, anyway, though it doesn't come close to saying what I think I want to say and it's in desperate need of editing perhaps, but hey...aren't we all?!

When we were kids in the sixties, it was so cool to get electronic presents for Christmas.  No Playstations, I'm talking transistor radios (de rigeur for spending the day at the lake in summer -- WABC out of New York) and reel-to-reel tape recorders with microphones.  These had a leathery smell and brand names scrawled on them in a space age-friendly script.  We'd talk into them, sing into them, make fake fart sounds into them; my dad played his guitar and recorded it; we would never in our lives have reason to say the words "testing, one two three, testing" without them, and we thought we were hot shit.  Hiding them, taping an unsuspecting conversation and playing it back brought us to our knees with laughter.  So did recording the toilet flushing.  Then inspiration struck me -- I could take the ones that operated on batteries and tape all kinds of sounds: bird calls, babbling brooks, the whispering wind, rain.

Now I find I was ahead of my time.  Think about it.  All those CDs that started coming out 15 or so years ago; "Sounds of Solitude," "Quiet Inspiration," "Nature's Music," et al -- what were they?  Bird calls, babbling brooks, the whispering wind, rain.  Designed to calm, center, soothe.  Exploding onto the acupuncture, yoga and meditation scene and their producers scooping up big bucks while the getting was good.  Ah, me.

The truth is, I don't think we feel entirely comfortable hearing stuff we're not used to.   I grew up nearer the woods than the ocean, and don't find the sounds of the surf particularly pleasing.  It's nice enough to visit the  shore, but those incessant waves crashing over and over, never stopping, never changing, have no place in the warm and fuzzy part of my psyche.   They don't fill me up.  I feel like I must have to do something; there is no rest.  And the seagulls have such a creepy cry.  Sinister, even (don't blame me for matrixing, blame Hitchcock). 

When our family had reason to drive into the city (Hartford or New Haven) it was a little better.  The horns honking, sirens, Spanish music pouring from fifth-floor tenement windows, jackhammers and payloaders, it was business, reason-ness, life, entertainment from the safe perch on the back seat of the car, temporary.   It was only until we got back home, to the right bucolic backdrop, country noises.

These were the country noises:  from the bedroom at my parents' house, on summer nights with the windows open, I could hear the steady drone of cars on the new highway.  This sound would lull me to sleep.  Sometimes raccoons would climb the trees in the middle of the night just outside my window and scream at each other; I would take my flashlight, go downstairs and out in the yard and shine it up on them, yelling "Quiet!  Quiet now you bastards!!"  They would settle down, too, after a few minutes.  From my parents' bedroom you could hear the waterfall going over the dam just down the street.  After it rained, I would  lie sideways on my parents' bed with my head by the window and listen; unchanging, it would drown out everything else that was roaring.

There was the factory whistle that went off at noon, the small factory where they made hooks, where my grandfather had worked, back when men walked or rode their bikes to work and back.  "There's the noon whistle," my mother, or my aunt, would say, stopping their conversation to go get busy again while we played. When I think of the noon whistle I think of the pattern of the linoleum on my mother's kitchen floor, I was that small when it blew, I was closer to the floor than anywhere else. There was the scary, urgent fire siren that used to call the firemen to the station, the number of times it blew designating the location and severity of the fire.   The church bells rang louder through fall air than the thick haze of summer; they were clearer then, sometimes a little off pitch but true to rhythm.  They made me think of pot roast and gave me reason to believe that sitting at the Sunday dinner to come was wrapping my family in a bubble of "always."

Always chain saws every autumn.   Leaves that crunch under your feet like stained glass.  You can't hear snow falling on the ground, but you can hear the plows outside.  You knew men in heavy sweatshirts and ski caps were behind the wheel, men who had gotten up at an ungodly hour and had coffee and a naugahyde recliner waiting at the town garage.

Birds.  Mourning doves, keeping their cool gray serenade.  The tap, tap, tap of a woodpecker somewhere above you, too high to see.  The loudest were the blue jays and the crows, screeching and cackling.  And the squirrels, scolding each other from branch to branch.  Someone in the neighborhood usually had chickens and a rooster that crowed.  And horses that whinnied.  And peepers every spring -- the little peep frogs that have to "come up" three times before spring is officially here, and then one night you don't hear them any more, you hear the bullfrogs -- jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum.  There were the bell-like insects on hot nights: chuh-chuh-CHUH, chuh-chuh-CHUH.  That is the sound my friend Anne listened to in wonder when she moved to Connecticut from Belgium.  "What is that?" she asked over and over again; "What kind of bug makes that sound?"  Where you used to hear tomcats yowling, now you hear coyotes howling, and cats don't go out at night anymore, but oh, well.  Things cycle.  No, they don't...I don't know what I'm saying that for; things change.

Listen.  What do you hear?  Are you holed up in a hermetically sealed "sick building" with barriers designed to keep out all stimuli?  Are you walking down the street hearing other footsteps you hope are friendly, maybe some faraway laughter, a TV playing through an open window?  Is it afternoon and you're in the backyard listening to the birds, the bees droning and the occasional thump of a black walnut or old mealy apple falling from tree to ground?  Listen.

The next sound you hear will be your heart beat, quiet and steady.  The last sound you are left with is your heart beat, after all.


  1. this is so very stunning, it brings tears to my eyes, and i'm not joking. It is so evocative and tender and nostalgic. We have much in common, I feel. One way you could get more traffic to this post and this blog would be to post it on your She Writes blog and then on What Did You Blog about today, put up your links. I wish I had my own links handy because I think you would like my essays on the Joder Ranch-- a quartet, on my blog-- early May or late April-- and some of the other pieces as well.

    The technology issue, past v present could be developed and sent to Julie Mihaly at Boom Underground. She is on SW as well. I sent her a piece on my first "Big O" so to speak, a funny piece, but it wasn't quite right for the tone of the zine. I'll put up a link to this blog and get to your others a.s.a.p. xxxj

  2. You take me to a place of such sweet memories while growing up......and life at a slower and simpler pace. The sights, the smells, the emotions. Wrapping my family in a bubble of "always".....if only. (We had the noon whistle at Pratt Read.)