The ten best sounds.

March 17, 2012 § 17 Comments

This list is subjective, and clearly mine, some of the “best sounds” tied to specific moments and memories, but if you grew up in America and have been around a while some of these sounds may make your list too.

The slap of a screen door. This vanishing sound of summer comes from behind, and I, the kid who pushed the door open am barefoot and escaping into another endless unmetered summer day.

The tap-tap of a shoe beating time: I listen for the first note, a stupid grin on my face, and lean toward the moment when I get to sing.

The chat of birds waking just before the sun rises. The window by our bed is always open so we wake in the dark and listen. Some trill. Some creak. Some complain. In response one of us will get up and make coffee. And another day begins.

The thrum of a rocking chair. Maybe I am the new mother who holds my sleeping baby, heavy and warm in my arms. Maybe I am the child sitting in Grandpa’ rocker in the dark of my grandparent’s living room. Behind  the chair, standing in the corner is the guitar my grandfather plays. I make my own quiet music, the chair’s rockers purring against the wooden floor.

The muffled bark of my sleeping dog Moo (Broder, Bonzo, Gigi, Lena…), claws skriching the floor as it dreams of something quick and just out of sight among the weeds.

The creak of mooring lines. As I sleep aboard an old wooden cruiser-become-home, the vessel tugs at its lines all night rocking me with the rhythm of waves and wind. Nearby, on Snake Creek, a tarpon free-jumps with an explosive slap.

The ping of the first kernel of popcorn hitting the pot lid, then the building crescendo and cacophony as a hundred kernels turn themselves inside out, then the diminuendo as the final few burst…the last quiet ping. My family is going to the Drive-in, but the Fogelins never pay for drive-in popcorn. We bring our own in a brown paper bag.

The heart-in-my throat swell of the Hallelujah Chorus sung in the Princeton University Chapel. All who have ever sung Handel’s Messiah are welcome to join in this anthem of resounding praise, to add a single voice that the tide of music that will flood the building and indeed the whole world.  Although I am a second soprano, caught up in the ecstasy of the music I throw myself into the first soprano line, sure I can fly if I jump off that cliff. And he shall reign forever and ever.

The splash of a small child in the tub, palms slapping water, followed by the belly down squeak as they slide on the tub’s slick bottom, the water having whirled away down the drain. The daughter in the tub has become a grandson, my sleeves are wet, and stretchy pjs hang on the towel rack.

The sound of now. A silence in the house is burred by the low note of my computer thinking its 01010101 thoughts. Moo is breathing quietly on the recycled sofa cushion that is her bed. It is so early the birds are not yet awake. So quiet now I can almost hear my own heartbeat.

Note: You might like this earlier post about the ten best smell list


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§ 17 Responses to The ten best sounds.

  • craig reeder says:

    the chorus of frogs at nite by the waterside. the symphony swells to crescendo, then recedes, then swells again. is there a conductor somewhere directing rise and fall of the music, or is it the random pattern of the universe? either way , it gives me a sense of deep calm.


    • I love that sound. In less scenic settings we hear that sound everytime we drive along Roberts Ave or Gumswamp Road. In low wet places you can always hear that chorus. To me it is not peaceful but thrilling, like the frogs are all shouting, “We’re alive, we’re alive!”


  • There is one sound that I always pick up on … the sound of someone laughing. Whether it is a child giggling, two black men on a street corner, or my wife on the phone with one of her sisters. We don’t think of laughter too much but if it disappears from your life and those around you … you will notice that it is gone. And when you hear someone off in the distance, down a corridor or in the next room laughing, you will want to go there and be a part of it … once again.


  • Roy Weidner says:

    The first few notes of any Sinatra song– “I got you…”

    see what I mean?


  • The relentless waves of the Atlantic crashing against the sand, receding, and then coming back again. Even without a shell I can hear it calling me home…it will always be the sound of home and youth and sun and friends and first love.


  • We love many of the same sounds, Adrian, but my most favorite, one shared by practically every mother of my generation, will never be a favorite of our daughters, because it no longer exists.

    It’s 2 a.m. You’re laying in a bed, not your own. Most likely, you’re not even wearing your own clothes. Strangers in the hall outside your room hurry past, some laughing, some talking, all busy. And then you hear the sound: loose, rattling wheels rolling down linoleum halls, lots of them — long lines of them — bumping over the metal transitions and into the rooms first farthest away and then closer, closer, ever closer. You push yourself up and feel like it’s every Christmas, every birthday, every first dive into the wild ocean waves because that loud, fabulous, rattling sound is the sound of the nurse rolling your new baby into your room. I’ll never forget it. Even in memory, I still smell that soft, baby neck and feel my dream for his future.


    • So beautifully written Leigh. I can hear that sound, although I never had that experience. When Josie was born the hospital was up-to-the-minute when it came to mothers and babies and she never left my room except for very brief medical tests.

      My clearest memory of that hospital stay comes from the first time I was alone with her. I didn’t know what to do, so I introduced myself. Literally. I looked at her in her bassinette and I said, “Hello, Josie. I’m your mother.”

      The enormity of being her mother took my breath away.


    • Thank you for reviving a memory that brought tears to my eyes, a smile to my face and the awareness once again that our babies gave us some of the sweetest moments of our lives.


      • Thanks, Sheila. This one simply spilled onto the page, the memory was so strong, so full of joy. You must be a writer; your comment on “the relentless waves of the Atlantic” read like a song.


  • Carolyn says:

    I would probably need to give more thought to get to all 10, but would have to rate the sound of a the wind blowing through quaking aspen leaves (flattened petioles make them flutter more than your average leaf) or fields of grain (fairly gentle wind, no tornadoes) pretty high up there. (For some reason the opening riffs on Gimme Shelter evokes an image of the wind through a field of ripe grain to me…)

    Water flowing by in a pebbly stream or a small waterfall would rank high on the list. Maybe as you said it is more than the sound, but also the setting, such as in a forest, on the side of a Caribbean mountain.. Also waves lapping on the beach, from open windows nearby in the morning before the sun rises.

    Baby laughter would also rank up there and bird songs, especially a mourning doves or even a flock of wild parrots, calling to each other.

    Agree frogs at night are also nice. After a few years enjoying the coquís in Puerto Rico (where they frequently hopped into the house via the open sliding glass doors), I have no idea why they are so hated in Hawaii!!

    I also remember the Hallelujah Chorus in Princeton U Chapel as being quite extraordinary, not sure if it would make the top 10, but it might…. I need further thought on the issue.. Hmmmm…


    • Your favorite sounds are so connected to where you have lived over the years. What a varied path you’ve traveled.

      I never thought of the opening of Gimme Shelter that way, but you’re right. It rustles, but it has sinister overtones a field of grain just can’t pull off.


  • It’s a beautiful piece Adrian. As I read it, each sound you described brought back a very strong memory. Sound vanished about a decade ago, when freeways, cell phones, and i Pods became the alternate reality of sound. You have to really listen for real sound now.


  • I know that you live in a sound-saturated environment. Somehow my neighborhood and most of the city of Tallahassee have managed to spin in an eddy that no doubt will take us to where you are, but slowly.

    Individual sounds still stand a chance here and I’m grateful. The white noise of modern life drives me crazy.


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