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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter
I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.
Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’
I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell
You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.
THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary
It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.
‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside
I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’
Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge
It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September
The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother
EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’
We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.
Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked
A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away
I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …
BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …
MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem
The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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