Friday, November 21, 2014

Did you hear that?

The "whoooooot" of an Amtrak commute train wakes me each morning...Its some distance off but it makes a lot of noise to clear the railroad crossing.  If my window is open I hear indistinct distant traffic sounds far away from highway 880….
After I get up, there is a swish of water in the bathroom,  and then the dogs bark a greeting when I go into the kitchen - and all of this is just the first 10 minutes of the day… 
Northbound Amtrak train
I let the dogs out into the back yard and hear bird sounds and perhaps the sound of a breeze in the bamboo… I love the  plaintive morning call of White Crown Sparrows  and the sound of water birds from the Quarry Lakes… There is a hiss of steam from the stovetop espresso maker as I return to make coffee… the “beep beep beep” of the microwave oven and the ‘burble’ sounds of oatmeal cooking. We know that the newspaper has arrived by its “plop” in the driveway. 

A migratory flock of Cedar Waxwings - they make a high pitched  "yeep yeep yeep" sound
My wife Judy comes out to join me and we chat about the news, or our plans, or why our rascally dogs barked in the night. Before I get ready to leave the house, there is the "hiss" of the shower, the "clump" of shoes, the rustle of papers going into my backpack,  lunch making sounds… then “good byes” and out the door…(slam). 

One of those days!
Ah! the first big choice of the day – what shall I listen to on the car radio as I commute? Talk or Music? – I quickly scan 6 different selector buttons on my radio and pick the best (or least objectionable).  Fortunately my tastes are very eclectic. (There is an industry that produced sound signatures that we associate with the event or product we are encountering… We instantly know the sound signature of NBC, NPR, the Olympics, the Superbowl, MasterPiece theater, and Nabisco.  These sounds have become part of our reality … our landscape.)

Oakland airport takeoff
And off I go… traffic sounds …  8 wheel diesel trucks… airplanes coming in to Oakland International.  impatient traffic horns…loud rap music from the car next to me.  And I reach my destination – the school I plan to visit today (I work as a Student Teacher supervisor ...high school science) – Now its 'talking talking laughing talking' – office secretaries, teachers, the many voices of students… I may hear construction sounds, factory sounds, or kids in the hallway sounds. One - maybe two schools to visit this day– then home.

Students working in lab
And all this is just my external sounds – I,  probably, like you, carry on an internal ‘sound’ dialogue within my own head pretty much all the time… “ Look at that guy, he just cut me off…”  “ I wonder what Judy is cooking tonight”   “I forgot to take the trash out to the street – I’ll do it when I get home” “I have got to stop at the hardware store tonight to get the repair part for the door.” “What can I do to help Marjorie with that really difficult class?”…on and on --- like a radio that can’t be turned off…

Sweet gentle rain
At times this tendency to fill everything with sound carries over to my relationships with others… its true that nature abhors a vaccum – And sometimes my brain abhors a quiet time when I am talking to others.  Strangely the more at ease I feel, the better I know the 'other' , the more I am able to just let things coast… I’m not alone in this – if you want to play a little game – observe a couple walking together or riding together on BART…you can tell alot about their relationship by seeing how they talk to each other... the more people force continually talking, it's a sure sign that they are trying to "sell themselves" to the other… I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been guilty of this …

There are rare times when I experience real quiet – both inside and out… The best for me is high mountain wilderness… After a day or two, my mind becomes still and I become open to the natural world–with only the music of flowing water, a breeze through the fox tail pines there is stillness, the cry of a hawk or picket pin squirrel, I feel peaceful inside and out… Some kinds of music can do the same thing for me...also the  north Pacific coast land, ...even, at times,  my own back yard...

10,000 ft. Yosemite

When I have tried meditation – I have been told that the object is not about making the mind empty but to just observe that is going on… think of it as the sky – The air may carry a cloud into view – it will pass slowly overhead, and then drift out of view…The object of meditation is the same.  Be aware of thoughts as they enter your consciousness – observe them without trying to control them, and allow them to leave.   Experienced ‘meditators’ report that, as time passes, fewer thoughts arise - and it is possible to ‘rest the mind’ without trying to control it. I only practice meditation under certain situations (like when I am listening to a concert or sometimes in nature ) but have never gained great control… I guess I haven't practiced enough.

You can plow a lot of field with this!
When I was a child my world of sound was different – the mooing of cows, the success cackle of a hen who had just laid an egg, a breeze flowing through the leaves of our giant cottonwood tree, the rustle of gentle wind in a field of growing corn... Far off tractor sounds as a field is being plowed.  Weather sounds were more dramatic... wind, rain, thunder.  And birds -lots of birds- Crows, Mourning doves, English Sparrows, Meadow larks, Hawks flying high overhead, Robins…

Smetana's "Moldau"  (the Moldau is the name of the river that flows through Prague -also called the Vlatava  River)

I am amazed at the sound memory bank that my brain holds and the vast emotion that I invest in sounds.  A musical bar from Dvorak’s “Moldau”, the theme from "La Boheme", or the "Steppes of Central Asia", the opening words of a familiar Johnny Cash song,  hymns that I love such as "Amazing Grace" or "How Great thou Art", good "Ranchero" music... – such variety stored away…And voices – I instantly recognize the voice sounds of those close to me, those that I haven’t seen in years. I can even ‘visualize’  the voices of absent people or those long gone.

My favorite sounds?  Thunder rumbling in the distance, Frogs in the night, Rain (when I’m toasty and warm on the inside), and quiet conversation with family and friends…

Can you hear the thunder?