The other day, I was out on the porch very early, sipping fresh-peppermint tea and enjoying the stillness of the summer dawn, when I suddenly realized that the morning wasn't at all still. Where I had thought there was stillness was a spirited orchestration of sounds: birds' whistles and tunes, cars whispering past the house, the river swirling over the dam, and - from across the hills - the faint song of cars and trucks on the Interstate. I put down my cup and listened. And the longer I listened, the more I understood what I had been missing. I had been deaf to the sprightly melodies a summer day offers.
So, I decided to listen - all day.
First, I fixed more tea and stayed on the porch for another hour or so. Not reading the newspaper, not making endless lists of things to do - just listening. Off to my left, some bumblebees buzzed among the blossoms in my small garden. I listened attentively, and noticed that occasionally the buzzing grew softer, or stopped, and then with a rush grew noisier, then softer again, then silent for a few seconds: a little bee band doing its summer songs.
Down by the river in the big pine tree, mockingbirds and orioles whistled to each other across the limbs. Again, I began to pick up rhythms and melodies, stops and starts and harmonies. Then, in the background, I heard a car rush up the street, then another, and somehow those whispery sounds mixed nicely with the songs of the bees and birds. But that wasn't all. What finally pulled the morning's symphony together was the measured sound of the river swish-swishing over the dam and, in the distance, the subdued bass-drum pulsation of the endless Interstate traffic.
As the day passed, I continued to enjoy the outdoor sounds, but I also opened my ears to the sounds inside the house. I was in the kitchen fixing a sandwich, when suddenly I heard - really listened to - my old refrigerator. It was humming pleasantly, but as I listened carefully, I picked up another sound, deep down inside - a quiet clicking or ticking, or perhaps a trickling, like a summer creek running across stones. I stood, lettuce and cheese in hand, listening.
Then I heard another old-house sound: the water pump switching on in the cellar, starting its low, leisurely song. Then, a special touch: a car buzzed past on the street just outside the kitchen, and its breeze made the window shade flap, twice. Buzz, smack-smack - a perfect ending to a fridge-pump-shade-and-car quartet.
TOWARD dusk I retired to the porch with a cold drink and a book of poems, but I didn't do much reading. Mostly, I just listened. A cricket was doing a jazzy solo down in the weeds beside the house. From the woods beyond the barn, a thrush occasionally sent out a serenade, and down along the darkening river I could hear the swallows cheeping as they swept the water, searching for snacks. From across the river, near the swimming hole, came the faint sound of human voices. I couldn't distinguish the words, but the voices sounded serene and graceful, full of the easygoing music of summer and friendship.
Later, in the hush of the nighttime house, I turned on my computer to make a start on this essay. I was typing good-naturedly along for a few minutes, when I suddenly heard, as if for the first time, the gentle song of the computer, the hum that accompanies all my writing. I paused to listen, then smiled and started typing again, but slowly and soothingly now, making lullaby rhythms on the keys.