Have you ever stopped and listened to the sound of an old clock ticking? The clock that sits in the corner on top of the book shelf in my office has just struck the half hour. Its sound is deep; it generates feelings of reverence and wisdom whenever I hear it. The clock was given to me by my aunt Janet. It has travelled to three different homes with me. I always place it in the room that I write in, close to my books and next to my thoughts. Its sound changes the feel of the room, slowing down time, breaking it into seconds you can almost touch. For 50 years the clock sat on a window ledge in my aunt’s farm house, observing time as each day passed. My aunt died on a cold winter day in February. The only sound in her hospital room was the hum from the fluorescent light above her bed. I wonder what sounds I’ll hear when I make my final departure?
Last night I lay with my head on Greg’s chest, listening to his heart beat. Its rhythm perfectly matched the ticking of my old clock. I thought of it pumping life into every vein and muscle in his body. And that some day this sound would end in him, and in me. Certain sounds seem to have an endless quality. Like waves breaking on a beach, or the roar of a waterfall. Even the din of traffic from a far-off highway has that ceaseless quality. As if they will continue long after I am gone. But the sound of a heart beating is so vital and intimate, it causes almost the opposite effect in me. I think mostly of its ending, a silence like no other. Like words, certain sounds bring about certain moods in me. The sound of a trickling stream causes a feeling of peace deep down. But sometimes it’s the lack of sound that creates this.
I remember walking along a city street last winter in the middle of a snow storm. The snow spread itself like a blanket over the noise of the city. As the snow fell, the blanket became thicker and heavier. The crunch of snow under my step was the only sound I could hear in the stillness of the falling snow.
Then there are sounds that, for me, signify the beginning of something. The sound of birds rising at dawn and heralding the new day. A car engine turning over, or a steam whistle in the distance. There are other sounds that signify the ending of something. Like “Taps” played on a single trumpet at a soldier’s funeral; or the squealing of brakes followed by the tearing of metal.
Sounds not only measure time but space. They seem to go along with the places I have lived. Each home has a host of distinct sounds that make it unique. The apple farm where I grew up had some sounds I’ve never heard since. A dog barking across the fields from miles away on a cold, star-filled night. Or the sound of frogs in the marsh filling the summer night with their calls. Like a thousand voices all trying to be heard. It was the first crowd I experienced. And it was there, on the farm, that I first heard the quiet rustle of poplar leaves sounding like tiny bits of tin foil tapping gently together. And cicadas buzzing on a hot August day.
There are certain sounds that I associate with living in Hamilton. A fog horn on a grey, misty day. A lawn mower cutting grass and kids playing in sprinklers. The sound of the knife sharpener ringing his bell as he drove slowly through the back alley. Then there are sounds that I associate with Greg’s cottage. They seem so far away. The loon calling for his mate to join him every evening. The lap of water against the dock and the boats jostling below us in the boathouse. The sound of Greg’s paddle dipping into a still lake. The tapping of a woodpecker echoing through the trees. All these sounds I associate with a certain time and place.
Today I can hear the sound of the streetcar as it makes its turn into the Bathurst station. It’s becoming a familiar sound. It reminds me that the world out there is turning. That life is going by. The sound gives me an anxious feeling, suggesting there is so little time and so much to do. And as I listen, I’m drawn back to the sound of my clock ticking. Each second is gone, each minute goes by. When I’m old and grey and about to take my last breath, I hope I can hear at least one sound. The sound of a heart beating.