Tuesday, December 13, 2011


'The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. . .' Poe had a penchant for creating mood. In The Bells he provides a word sonata that recreates the various pitches and tones of sled bells, wedding bells, fire bells, and finally the death knell. The poem resonates in my mind whenever I think of the effect of sound on my life.

Sitting here in my castle keep, the back veranda of my hillside inner suburb colonial home, there are a variety of sounds that capture my attention. The children at play around their back yard pool three houses down the block, the grinding gears of the puddy-puddy cement mixer on its way to a renovation site up the hill, far away the air brakes of the city commuter train coming to a stop at Milton station, and just now the chortle of the Butcher Bird hunting for his breakfast lizard.

Behind all these sounds, nattering away inside my right ear is the tinnitus of my old age humming away like a high tension wire expressing it's turbid electricity. Only this electricity is inside my inner ear, keeping me aware that I indeed have a private song that no one else in the world shares. Oh, others may suffer the effects of tinnitus, but each of us has a particular brand.

In reality some sounds in daily life have a much greater impact than others. We each hear what matters even if the 'matter' is one of distaste rather than of delight.

One that currently grabs my attention is the high-pitched whine of the crosscut saw emanating from the front veranda where my husband renovates. Behind that whine is another, softer only because it comes from the building site down the block. Unexpectedly, every now and again, the scream signalling the contact between blade and Australian hard wood disturbs my concentration. The loud whine reminds me of Out. . . Out, a poem by Robert Frost about a young boy who loses his hand to a 'hungry' cross cut saw on a winter's morning

Closer, a mud wasp settles into the corner of my office windowsill looking for a cranny in which to build her nest and interrupts my reverie.

I shoo both of them away, the mechanical whine and the resonating soft whiz of the insect wings hoovering in search of a home to procreate. Both give my day form; frame it, if you will; one with the skills of a master craftsman, tall, strong, determined, patient and the other small, the size of my fingernail with diaphanous wings whirring to make the small but decipherable interruption of the air around her body, looking for a space into which her perfect self can safeguard the next generation. If I didn't know better, I'd think both were creations of a goddess.

All of this discussion reminds me of the short essay The Lives of a Cell from the book with the same title by Lewis Thomas in which he compares the planet itself to a living, procreating cell. The circuitry of the brain brings such unexpected connections.

But the sound that resets my circadian rhythm each day is the sound of my husband as he returns from his 5 a.m. bike ride along the Brisbane River cycle trail to Kangaroo Point where he climbs the wickedly steep stairs up the Cliff face from River Level to the park in front of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church. There is something holy, something spiritual, about a 63-year-old man who chooses to rise from his bed early on a summer's morning to cycle along the River in order to stay healthy.

And the sound of his return along with the knowledge that he has completed one more circuit through the earliest morning city traffic through the tunnel under Coronation Drive, a six lane thoroughfare along the River, along Railroad Terrace to the tunnel under Milton Road, the second entrance to the city proper, along Baroona Road and the massive five way intersection with Hague Road, up the steep hill the puddy-puddy will follow later in the day.

Our back door has an electronic lock with a keypad, an ironic addition, since the door itself is made of green steel rectangles plenty wide enough for a slender arm to reach through to press the switch on the inside to release the locking mechanism. Nonetheless, we dutifully play the keypad with appropriate numbers in order to open the door and bring groceries and bicycles into and to take trash bags and gardening tools out of.

As I lay in my bed, almost awake in the early morning, the slight electronic ring of the keyboard and the releasing sound of the chime slice through the quiet morning and alert me to his return. Stretching, I swing my legs out from the edge of the bed, slip into my clogs and move to gather my morning hug and kiss from the fellow who makes my day buzz with a sense of serenity and excitement all at the same time.