Subtlety of Sound

Last week a friend told me how his mom stored dry beans in coffee tins and they sat on the top of the tall kitchen cabinets. For him, those coffee tins were reassurance that there would be supper when money got tight.

What I couldn’t get out of my head was the sound of those beans pouring into the empty tins and what that sound meant. So I wrote a poem about it.

Last week I also admitted I was one of those weird people who welcome the shortening of days. One of my poet friends laughed and agreed I was weird. But this morning as I left the house at 6:15, I was reminded of one of the reasons why I love this time of year. It has to do with pre-dawn sounds  – insects chittering when birds haven’t yet started singing.

For years my morning ritual had been sitting on the deck during these almost-but-not-quite-light hours, journaling and doing morning pages by flashlight, surrounded by those sounds. It’s not just white noise to fill the air and relax me, there’s a real emotional connection to that music. Takes me back to Ohio when I slept with my window open? Or back to when I went tent camping with my kids? Something.

That got me thinking. As writers we want our readers to feel as if they’re in the place we’re writing about. The subtlety of sound is one way of doing that, not the big noises of doors slamming or guns going off, but those whispers of sounds like a match being struck or the hum of a ceiling fan. And what other sounds, like dry beans being poured into a tin, evoke the feeling of comfort, security, home?

Listening to clothes tumbling in a dryer is another one for me. It’s not the mechanical whir of the dryer, it’s the sound of the clothes themselves – towels or sheets especially – thump-thumping that lulls me back to childhood when mom finished laundry at night after my sisters and I went to bed.

And since I’ve already admitted to being weird, the rumble of a garbage truck or a snow plow also gives me comfort. Probably because these occur either late at night or early in the morning while I’m still cozy in bed.

What about you? What are those soft sounds that take you back or put you at ease? What sounds in your readings make you say ‘ahhh…. I know exactly how that feels?’

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1 Response to Subtlety of Sound

  1. One sound that always takes me back to my childhood is the sound of a train whistle–especially at night. When we first came to South Carolina, I was about 9 years old. My new grandmother lived in a house near the railroad tracks. When we were spending the night with her, and I heard that train whistle, I felt safe, warm, secure.
    Now the sound that greets me in the morning–and at other times as well, is a rooster crowing. Sometimes we hear two crowing at the same time. They start about 4:30 in the morning. One hen house is not to far from my window, and I can actually go back to sleep after the crowing starts.
    Thanks for posting, Kim, and for taking me down my memory lane of comforting sounds.

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