Or maybe I’m not even awake. Perhaps I am in a liminal state when the train manages to penetrate the membrane of semiconsciousness, insinuating itself into my dreams.
I like the sound of a train because it’s old-fashioned — romantic — and because it reminds me that there are other humans out there beyond the edge of the blanket. The sound waves sketch a scene, conjuring up both the people on the train — driving it, riding in it — and the people on the other end of the tracks awaiting the train’s arrival.
I hear the train whistle, and in an instant I see in my mind the fabric of our nation. The locomotive is a needle sewing stitches across the motley quilt that is the USA.
For me, last week was a week for listening. My Lovely Wife and I both took the week off of work. It was a staycation, circumscribed by the pandemic. All summer, Facebook has been throwing up reminders of the Before Times, what I call social media’s “Rubbing Your Nose In It” feature: Last year, you were in Italy. Two years ago, you were in Northern California. Nine years ago, you were in Greece.
This year, you are on your porch.
That’s been fine — a godsend, really. Our new screened porch comes with its own signature sound: the lovely clink of a porch door closing.
Some porch doors slam, a noise to be avoided. In summers past — when our girls were little — we’d spend a week at the beach. The houses we rented had silvery gray exteriors of weathered wood. There’d always be a porch facing the ocean — home to a hammock, splintery rocking chairs, sandy flip-flops, a bucket of shells — and to get from the porch to the beach you’d go through a screen door that was invariably warped on its hinges.
“Don’t let the porch door slam!” the grown-ups would shout, to little avail. What child can spare the extra second to carefully ease a porch door shut when the sea awaits (in one direction) or the coolth of an ice pop (in the other)?
But our backyard porch is brand-new. It’s coddled in suburbia, not wracked by ocean gales. It’s well-made of engineered materials. The doors hang true and they close and latch with a satisfying double-barreled snick: CHA-chunk.
Sometimes I’ll walk from the porch to the yard and back again just to hear that sound.
There’s another sound I love: rain falling from trees after it’s stopped raining.
The storm has passed. It has loaded up the canopy with water, each leaf a tiny bowl. And then the branches are swept by the wind, anything from a breeze to a gust. The leaves tremble, shedding the drops, which fall and join their countless comrades already percolating through the soil, toward the water table and thence to the mighty ocean.
“Is it raining again?” my wife asks.
“No, it’s just the wind,” I say.
To me, it’s the aural equivalent of a rainbow.
I like the sound a dog makes when it’s dreaming. It’s part whimper, part bark. The sound fires my imagination: What is the dog thinking?
Is he reliving past glories or re-litigating past defeats? Is he chasing a ball or a squirrel? Racing through the woods? Remembering his mother and his long-gone littermates?
Or does he hear the train, too, and wants nothing more than to be aboard it, lighting out for the territory and the unknown adventures that await him there?
What sounds do you love? Send them — with “Sound thoughts” in the subject line — to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.