I have visited this topic — how it is often only through inconvenience that we come to appreciate the comforts we have in life — before.
I guess I needed to be reminded of that again last week when a late-night thunderstorm came plowing through our area, zapping phones and computers and garage door openers and, eventually, our own electrical power.
In an instant, my wife and I lay in our bed in the dark, in silence, listening…
I had retired to read around 11:30, the late local news over, an impromptu bowl of cereal still sloshing in my stomach. Tired and a bit back-sore after a day of mowing and weed-whacking in the Turkish steambath-kind of heat that comes to stay with us in July, I peeked through our west-facing windows as I hobbled off to turn a few pages of a book that needed to interest me that night or find itself in a garage sale box.
I commented to Joanie that we either had a whopper of a thunderstorm headed our way or a fireworks show in the northern corner of the county was running late, because the sky was restless with flashes of light.
Because storms had become as regular for us as a daily vitamin, regardless of what the weatherman was predicting, we expected to find an inch or so of rain in the gauge on my cabin porch rail the next morning; we weren’t disappointed.
I wearily turned only a few pages of the book before I clicked off my light and went to sleep.
My wife, as she often does, had read in her living room recliner until her chin was on her chest, and was stumbling into the bedroom an hour behind me as the lightning and wind and rain were coming on in earnest. I was awake by then, and she told me that our deck table umbrella had come unmoored and had blown against our back door. I launched myself out of bed to retrieve it, knowing it could be in the jet stream over Bridgeton by morning.
I don’t sleep well when wind and rain are driving by my place, but I usually can’t sleep at all when lightning and thunder are along for the ride. I tried to read with my booklight for a while as I heard the rain smacking down on our roof and pelting our storm windows, and I kept hopping out of bed to unplug the victims of earlier lightning strikes, our computer, for example. I was headed for our phone just as a brilliant blue-white bolt struck in the field across from the house, setting off our smoke detectors and dimming our lights in a scene reminiscent of a prison-break movie.
Back in bed for what I hoped would be the last time that night, I believed that I’d eventually be too tired to stay awake for long, that the worst of the storm had already passed, and that the hum of our bedroom fan would lull me away from the worries of ripped shingles and overflowing gutters and a now-messy yard.
It didn’t work out that way; the storm returned for another assault, and then another, and another. And then, in the eerie, flashing light of countless strikes, our power died. I heard the last gasp of our air conditioner, the fan went dead, and the blinking blue light of our computer modem flickered and passed away in the living room. Suddenly, a house that had been alive with the purrs of a refrigerator and a dish washer and a hot water heater was as quiet as a tomb, completely dark, except for the craggy streaks of nature’s pyrotechnics.
I read a Newsweek magazine article a month or so ago that suggests that Americans are now hearing so much, seeing so much, overloading their circuitries with so much information and sound nearly every minute of their day, that they can’t make good decisions anymore.
It was far from a clinical study that night, but it didn’t take a minute for that thought to drift through my mind. I had become so used to hearing something — the drone of a fan; the canned laughter of a television; the clack of keyboard keys a room away — before I drifted off to sleep each night that total silence in the house was unsettling. I couldn’t sleep…
The storm spent itself and was gone within a half-hour more, but the house grew so quiet, so hushed that it took me back to grade school sleepovers with friends and how I always struggled to sleep in strange places. My wife, who, I’m certain, can fall asleep in a chainsaw repair shop, was already snoozing, the rhythm of her breathing now louder than normal. I grabbed my pillow and a blanket from under the bed and headed for the couch.
As I settled on the sofa, I heard little but the ringing in my ears; I rolled and tossed, and eventually moved to the floor of our family room, slightly warm and agitated. I asked myself how I could spend so much time in my cabin, never missing the television or the stereo, most often just listening to the thoughts in my head or the birds through the screened windows, and being comforted by just those few sounds, yet this near-total silence exasperated me. The hours dragged by endlessly.
By 5 a.m., I had done a lot of thinking, but virtually no sleeping. The whole thing kind of reminded me of a scene from an old W.C. Fields’ film, “It’s a Gift,” where the hapless protagonist, Harold Bissonette, tries to grab a few minutes rest on a back-porch swing, but his harpy wife, an ice-pick wielding Baby Leroy, an overbearing insurance salesman searching for Carl LaFong, and a rolling coconut all conspire to see it doesn’t happen. I had no squeaking clotheslines or obnoxious neighbors keeping me awake, like Bissonette, but the usual cracks and creaks of a cooling, settling house had become klaxons to me.
By 6 a.m., the sun began to make early ventures through the clouds, just enough, I might add, to shine through the blinds into my face.
It was irritating, but by no means did the light keep me awake as much as the robins in the maples just a few feet and a wall away. Apparently happy to be out of their nests and up for a day of grooming my lawn for worms, they were cheerfully and loudly discussing the day’s business.
By that time, our old housecat, Arthur, was also into the act. Hungry from a night spent in the garage in his own bed, he was clawing at our door, wailing in hopes of his usual monotonous breakfast. With his pitiful cries, I gave up any illusion of sleep, so I slipped on a pair of jeans and headed out the door to the newspaper box.
The power was restored by 8:30. I knew the crew of utility linesman spent a much more restless night in their work than I did in my attempt to slumber, but I can’t imagine that they felt any worse for wear.
All at once, our house was filled with the beeps and murmurs and whistles of freezers and ceiling fans and microwaves coming to life. Within minutes, I heard ice cubes automatically plopping into a plastic tray.
At some point in my sleepless vigil, I contemplated how just a few generations ago people went to bed and slept and awoke to silence in their homes, and how the conveniences I had in a “modern” life, when taken from me for just a few hours, had made me dependent on comforting sounds, like a baby who hears its mother’s heartbeat in the womb.
I thought I loved silence, and I know I have been critical of so many as they’ve passed me with wires plugged into their heads, their music so loud I could hear it myself. But I seek silence of my own choosing.
Late that afternoon, bleary-eyed and thick-headed, I lay down on our bed for a quick nap.
Just to be sure, I flicked on the fan; I had to hear something.
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at email@example.com or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at http://tribstar. com/mike_lunsford, and visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com. His third collection of stories, “A Place Near Home,” is due to be released in the fall.
I have visited this topic — how it is often only through inconvenience that we come to appreciate the comforts we have in life — before.
- Mike Lunsford
A walk in the woods
I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science
My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring
Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Twain’s Sawyer helps us yearn for ‘wilderness of childhood’
My cousin, Roger, stopped in one day last summer for a glass of tea and a little conversation. Rog has lived an hour’s drive away for years and now, and besides summer reunions, I don’t see him nearly often enough. He’s a good man who has raised a good family, and he owns a healthy sense of appreciation for not only the life he has now, but also the lives we had years ago as kids.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Cheerful green of wheat fights winter blahs
There is a light drizzle of freezing rain tapping at the door of my cabin today. It is little more than a week before the words I am writing are due to appear on your breakfast table or work desk with your morning coffee and scrambled eggs. But I write when I can, and today, despite a full schedule of televised football games, and the stacks of ungraded papers in my briefcase, and a good book lying open on my nightstand, I am clacking away on a keyboard to the whir of a heater and the steady drip of my gutters.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On the simple joys of watching it snow ...
It began to snow about 20 minutes ago, as I write this, light, wind-driven flakes that fall silently into my woods as I watch from a window.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On this day above all, ‘Peace on earth, good will to men’
More than a year after his wife’s death, the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote in his diary on Christmas Day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Remembering a Lefty Frizzell-kind of Christmas ...
My brother and sister and I sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table a month ago, shifting in our seats just enough to make our yet-to-be digested turkey sit a little more easily, and, as we often do when we get together, we reminisced about our childhoods for a while.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The wonders of wading in ‘The Iridescence of a Shallow Stream’
I have no idea how many times I have written a story that begins with the wistful phrase, “When I was a boy. ...”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Little man who came to dinner changes feel of household
My 7-year-old nephew, Carson, came to visit us last week. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering news, for he often drops by with one of his parents or the other, the last time dressed as a ghoul for Halloween. But for a couple like Joanie and me, whose youngest child is now nearly two decades past Carson’s age, having a little guy like him in the house, even for a few hours, takes a bit of adjusting.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Reflections: a bit of red glass and our daily thanksgivings
I sat in the half-light of my old desk lamp a few nights ago, a chilly wind blowing in from the northwest that made me appreciative of my long-sleeved shirt and purring heater.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Growing up — and ‘old’ — with many mouths to feed
At our family reunion last summer, I asked my brother if I could borrow a pair of photo albums he had put together. Over the past couple of years, I have committed quite a few of our family’s old yellowing snapshots to newly cropped and digitalized lives, and I wanted to do the same with some of the pictures John has collected for himself.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Violets in October – a pleasant surprise
I guess I don’t pay much attention to the weather forecasts these days because it surprised me a bit when our furnace kicked on a few nights ago.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A library is a good thing — even a little, homegrown one
I grew up with libraries, and I can’t imagine there ever being a time when I won’t want to wander one exploring it like some bookworm-Balboa, finding an author or title that I never really knew existed before. Creating those “Eureka” moments seems to be a dying interest now that so many of us download and digest books electronically without ever really considering that there just might be some hidden gem we’d have liked even more had we simply stumbled upon it on a shelf by accident. I think those moments of discovery are not unlike kicking up lost treasure a mile from where X marks the spot.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The ‘soothsayer’ who came to dinner
I’ve had a good time opening my mail these past few weeks. Sure, I still received the usual junk about lower credit card rates and satellite television packages, but the genuine letters made me smile; most were about a story I wrote in late August.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The agony of de‘feet’ has this writer on his heels
I don’t know if I can electrocute myself by using a computer and soaking my feet in a pan of warm water at the same time, but I am contemplating taking the risk. My feet, particularly the right foot, have staged a 10-digit rebellion over the past few months. After a half-century of commendable service, my pods are screaming to be taken in for repairs, a big inconvenience for a guy who works on his feet all day and whose “sole” form of serious exercise is putting one foot in front of another walking the local roadways.
Mike Lunsford: Summer’s hidden beauty worth the wait
The great naturalist John Burroughs once said that nature teaches more than she preaches. I can’t recall a summer where that rings true more than this one, for that old sun of ours truly taught us a thing or two these past three months.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time to redefine the concept of ‘assisted living’
Although it has been nearly two months now, I can’t forget the few afternoon hours I spent on a hot June day this summer at a local “assisted living” facility in town. I had been asked to speak to a group of men there about Father’s Day, but for most part, the wonderful old guys who came to listen certainly made my day more memorable than I did theirs.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Observations on smooth stones and blue-green water…
It was raining when I began to write this. Although no one could rightfully call what we got this afternoon a “downpour,” it was nice to have my windows open to hear the steady drops of a passing shower tapping on my dry-as-dust deck and hard-as-concrete yard.
MIKE LUNSFORD: This summer has us recalling the heat of ’36
It was “only” 99 degrees one afternoon last week when I decided to work on a backyard deck. With a jack and a drill and a little more sweat than I wanted to invest in the project, I went about the business of leveling its sags and dips a bit. The sun pounded down on my head and shoulders like a thug’s blackjack, but as I packed my tools and drank a glass of cool water under a big maple tree a few hours later, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I’ve been these past few dusty and drought-stricken weeks. I have worked under this summer’s heat lamp for only a few hours at a time, but God help the roofers and utility linesmen and firemen, and so many others, who are out in it day after long hot day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: We had no better friend than Andy Taylor
The world is a sadder place now that Andy Griffith has died, but at least we still have Andy Taylor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Wading deeper into the subject of Blue Herons
Like a relative who has worn out his welcome, the hot, parched weather of this young summer has already overstayed its visit with us, so my wife and I have found ourselves walking our road later in the evenings to keep our feet cool and our backs dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Thanking two dads whose gifts have never stopped coming…
It is nearly a week until Father’s Day, but I have had my dad, and my father-in-law — a second dad to me — on my mind today. I wrote about both men just a few weeks ago, but I have set my mind to write about them again anyway. I don’t want this story to be sad; they both loved to laugh and wouldn’t want that. No, I just wanted to tell them hello, and to thank them again for what they still do for me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Raising a flag for my father, veteran or not
My daughter, Ellen, and I stood at my parents’ graves on Mother’s Day a few weeks back and talked about how it couldn’t possibly have been so long since we lost them. My dad, for instance, has been gone for 16 years, and that is nearly unimaginable
MIKE LUNSFORD: Time to become one of the boys of summer again …
Besides writing for a living, I teach school, and I’m not ashamed to tell people that I still love my classroom. I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, all of them in the same school district, and virtually all of them in the same building. But I also have to tell you that if the next few weeks don’t slide by pretty quickly, I may just let loose of the last thread of sanity from which I have been dangling for a while now. There are a lot of teachers out there who feel the same way.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time for us to get the real lowdown on dirt…
I have had my hands in the soil as of late. Two Fridays ago, I planted a viburnum bush, three chrysanthemums and a yellow poplar, not because it happened to be Earth Day, but because it was sunny and warm, and I had the whole afternoon to myself. The dirt I scraped out of and back into the shallow holes I dug near a backyard picket fence smelled good, and when dampened with a few sprinkles of water, it soon found its way into the deep wrinkles of my knuckles and under my fingernails. For the most part, I have nothing but good things to say about dirt.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Make big money: Raise worms at home for fun and profit…
When I think about all of the crazy things my brother and sister and I did just to make a few dollars when we were kids, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for teens this summer as they try to find jobs in what is supposed to be a very tight market. Money, to say the least, was a rare commodity when we were growing up, but you have to at least give us credit for trying.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d…’
Had white lace curtains been hanging in the west window of my cabin, I would have had a perfect Wyeth painting to watch last Thursday. A gentle breeze was wafting through my screens, and the sunlight of a warm late March day was fractured by the window sill as it poured onto my legs and feet. I could catch the scent of lilacs as it was carried in by that wind, and it and the subtle melody of the chimes that hang just outside made me as lazy as an old cat.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A report from the country as a new season brings sense of renewal
Regardless of what the calendar may yet say, spring has happened. It couldn’t have come too soon, and it wasn’t just last week and its windy 70s that have convinced me. I have been keeping a journal of sorts in my head for a fortnight now, stashing away reports of birds and buds and sounds in the crammed cabinets of my mind, all in a file marked, “The New Season.”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Feeding time at the homestead draws a host of new guests
I stepped outside into the warmth of an unusually mild early March morning last week to do what I always do just before I grab my briefcase and book bag and lunch bag and head off to work. It’s nearly always dark when I leave, even as the sun gets up earlier and earlier in the late winter, so I often go about the business of feeding our cats with porch lights on and a flashlight in hand.
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- A walk in the woods