I give a lot of talks around the country, and one thing I always find myself saying is that music is the great time machine. For example, sometimes, when you hear a specific song, it immediately takes you back to that place in time when you first heard it, or when something significant happened, or when you had a pleasant or even sad experience.
For example, the moment I hear the song The Letter, by the Box Tops, I’m transported back to my junior high gym and the before-school sock hops of the late 1960s. Yep, if we got there early enough on Friday mornings, we could dance until the bell rang and classes took up.
“Give me a ticket for an air-o-plane, ain’t got time to take a fast train…” goes the song.
And there I am, in the sweaty-sock-infused air of the gym, watching the kids gyrate to 45s spun on a little record player and wishing that Wanda would say yes if I asked her to dance.
I never did. Couldn’t muster up the courage.
But the point is, music takes me back. Certain smells do the same. The scent of alfalfa puts me in a meadow down below my grandparents’ farmhouse. The intoxicating aroma of leather takes me to Six Flags Over Texas in my youth, where there was one souvenir store filled with belts, purses and whips.
Never spent a penny in there, but I sure breathed a lot of sweet, free air.
I awoke this week to another sensory input, the distant pops of shotguns on opening day of dove season. I lay there in bed, transported on a rainy morning to the river bottoms of Chicota, Texas, and a hunt with two dozen relatives ranging from age 10 to 65.
There was no hunt for me this opening weekend, but I’ll report back to you later in the month when the Hunting Club membership heads for Vernon.
Yesterday evening in this unseasonably cool weather, the War Department and I sat out under the patio enjoying the smell of damp cedar overhead, and rain and splashing water. We recorded almost five inches in 24 hours.
The sound of water has a snapping-turtle-hold on me. Always has. Since I couldn’t build a house beside a Colorado mountain stream, we installed a pool in the back yard of our suburban home. At the far end is a waterfall that fills the air with the music of falling water. If I want more, and I usually do, the hot tub has a cascade into the pool that supplies additional music. A stereo effect, if you will, that drowns out most neighborhood noises.
We were listening to it as darkness fell, and the falling water also became a time machine.
“Hey, you remember when we camped by that little stream in southeast Colorado?”
“That’s when Taz was about four. What was the name of that little place?”
“It was the Bear Lake campground in Cuchara. We got the last open campsite that evening.”
“I loved that place. You cooked lake trout for us that you caught up in Lake City while she and I visited my college roommate.”
“And I saw a little flower beside the stream not far from the tent and was gonna take a picture of it while you puttered around the camp. Taz went with me to watch.”
“And while you were setting up the camera on a tripod, she picked the flower and brought it to me.”
“Yeah.” I sighed. “The only flower in sight. But the best part was when it got late and the only sound we could hear was that chuckling stream. I slept like a log that night.”
“I didn’t. Taz was between us in the tent and she turned sideways every fifteen minutes.”
“How about the time you and I camped up in Arkansas on the Buffalo River. The water wasn’t as loud, but you could hear it all night, gurgling over the rocks.”
“It rained the next night. That’s what made it special.” We rented a cabin and I opened all the windows and we spent that day listening to splashing water. “The sound of water again. Now that we’re talking about it, how about the first time we went to Hawaii and rented that house on the cliff, looking out over the ocean.”
“It rained seven of the nine days, and you opened the bedroom window when we got there and never shut it.”
“I loved the sound of those breakers a hundred feet below. It was a constant crash and resonance. Man, I slept good then, too. I did that one other time when Woodrow and I went to Georgia for a conference. They put us up in a hotel room that opened onto the ocean. We didn’t close those sliding doors for four days, listening to the waves.”
She thought for a minute.
“Then there was the evening you and I sat in the Guadalupe and drank wine as the sun went down, listening to water gurgling around the rocks.”
“While the kids stayed up at the trailer and played games. It was peaceful for a while, until they decided to join us.”
We were silent for a short while, reminiscing, until she elbowed me in the ribs.
“You know what water sound I don’t like,” she asked.
“Uh, oh. What?”
“The bathroom faucet dripping. You said you were going to fix that.”
“It reminds me of water dripping off the roof.”
“Good try. Get after it tomorrow, good sir.”
A lightning bug flickered against the dark trees and I was transported back to one night the Brazos River when I was a kid, listening to water gurgle around a deadfall and watching fireflies until sleep took me away.