It struck me that this week’s discussion topic should be a reprieve from the turbulent ups and downs of the political sphere—to provide a break from the action, a kind of palate cleanser or refreshment. That got me thinking about sound, specifically sounds that I love, that transport me or cause me to pause, reflect, step out of my daily mindset.
One of my earliest memories is the sound of a train humming along the tracks, some miles away from the bunk bed where I slept on a warm summer evening. It wasn’t quite dark outside, so I’m guessing it was around 8:30 or 9 pm, and it was not long before I fell asleep. That distant hum, a gentle rumble that was like a lullaby, made me aware of other realities beyond my room. It caused me to imagine other lives, other worlds, as I heard the constant motion of the train, its base hum like a steady rhythm occasionally punctuated by a long whistle.
Years later, that sound came rushing back when I was living amid the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania (my first newspaper job) and regularly sat in a diner where freight trains would rumble by along the Ohio River while I ate. Now and then these days, driving along the highway, I roll down the windows to listen to a freight train as its heavy boxcars barrel down the tracks and move in parallel to my car. I also savor the moments when a freight train is crossing at a nearby intersection—red lights flashing, alarm bells clanging—and I need to stop whatever I’m doing. (A lively sample here.) It’s a chance to watch—and especially to listen. To listen and remember how, many years ago, that distant rumble connected me to worlds beyond my childhood window.
I could mention other sounds, especially from nature, like the peaceful trickle of a small creek or the deep cracks of thunder in a stormy nighttime sky. But let me ask you: What sound do you love? Maybe it’s a memory or perhaps it’s one you travel to experience or listen to most every day. As always, I look forward to reading your comments.
*Photo by Sergey Kucherov via Getty Images.
Every spring I listen for the Hermit Thrush’s song. They sing at the edge of the woods, a fair distance. They sing from dusk to dark every evening. In June my husband died. We buried him in the pasture overlooking the pond. Put his racing bike as the headstone. The next evening as I crawled into bed there was a Hermit Thrush singing in the maple tree outside my bedroom window. Never before and never again. My husband’s spirit flying free.
My daughter surprised me by telling me it was the jangle of my keys when I came home from work and opened the door. The sound was a promise to her of forthcoming love, security, kindness and fun.
What a good essay! How often we forget or ignore the enormous gift each of our senses individually, or collectively, can give to us.
For nature sounds, to me you can't beat the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Otherwise, it's 60s music for me - particularly The Beatles!
I, too, love the sound of a freight train - both in the distance and at a crossing. What is equally great for me is the near-sudden return to relative silence and calm once the freight train has passed through a crossing and the train noise and clanging warning bell have stopped. The contrast has always fascinated me.
Owls. I love the sound of a hoot owl calling into the night. And you're right, it brings back the memory of my dad who used to love to hoot back to the owl that lived in the pine tree in my neighbor's yard across the street.
He'd stand out front waiting to hear the lonely call, then he'd respond and I'd get such a thrill that they would communicate for quite some time, back and forth, calling to each other.
Probably my most favorite memory of my sweet dad.
Thank you for that moment.
The “thwump” sound that a screen door makes. That’s what summer was. Running outside to play, the door swinging closed behind you. We didn’t have A/C, so doors and windows were open all day long, and windows still at night. That let in the other great summertime noises - crickets, bull frogs croaking down in the creek, the occasional owl hooting. I’d die without A/C now, or at least I think I would, but I do miss those noises and the freedom they evoke.
The unique rustle of cottonwood trees in the wind
Nothing beats the sound of a happy cat purring. I’d attach my cat’s “song” if that were possible.
The sound of a semi truck coming down the road, a reminder of part of my life I'll never forget and my hubby either coming home or heading out again. The phone ringing at dinner time, it's hubby wanting to share a meal with me from a 1000 miles or so away.
When I was a child growing up outside of Chicago, I loved the sound of trains in the distance - across the flat plains- at night. I don’t hear them here in California but when I’m in the Midwest I do. It’s like seeing fireflies in the summer there - it is my childhood memories again…
Growing up in Phoenix I never heard a train and I never had to wait at the tracks for a train to go by.
However, after divorcing my 1st husband when I was in my early 20s, I moved to a small town in southeast TX and rented a room in an old lady’s old house while I went to nursing school.
The house was very close to railroad tracks. In fact it was so close it rattled the windows when the train went by. But I didn’t mind the noise at all because to me it symbolized freedom, freedom from the 24/7 pressure of an abusive man. I welcomed the pressure of working to support myself while going to school full time. It was like heaven to me!
Thirteen years later I was able to buy a house in Houston on my own. It so happened that my house was also close to railroad tracks, though not as close as the old lady’s house. I loved the noise because it still meant freedom, but by then it also meant personal accomplishment.
The sound I love most is the sound of rain. Metro Phoenix has the most boring weather on earth and very little rain. My first car didn’t have windshield wipers, (That was before car inspections were required.) and I never owned a raincoat or an umbrella until I moved to Houston. The weather there was never boring. But eventually I had enough of hurricanes, floods and the property destruction that went with it in Houston. I moved back to Phoenix and learned to love the sound of rain again and to appreciate boring weather.
When we lived in Western Massachusetts, the most beautiful sound was on a below zero night with 3 ft of snow. A very deep rumble, minutes long, of 4 or 5 Diesel locomotives pulling their railcars up a steep grade
The sound of the subway. I grew up near the northern terminus of the 2/3 line in NYC. Now I hear Amtrak and freight lines, but it’s not the same.
Birdsong & water!! Giggling! Anything Vivaldi!
There are so many.
An orange owl lived in the hole in a dead tree in the woods behind our house. My little daughter loved it, looked for it every day. One day, it was gone. A couple of years later, when daughter blew out the candles on her birthday cake, I asked her what was her wish. That the owl would come back. Later that evening, sitting on the deck, there it was, sitting in it's old home, letting out a hoot now and then. We couldn't believe it. The next day, it was gone. Forever. Guess what I collect.
Mother used to sing to herself all the time til I asked her to stop. It annoyed me. She did. But the silence was deafening. I asked her to please sing again. She did. All was right with the world.She also liked to dance around and sing with Hank Williams-Hey Good Lookin'-I hear that in my head every once in awhile to this day.
Train sounds have always scared me. My dad taught, sold insurance, and worked in the tower by railroad tracks when I was little. He manipulated the levers which changed positions of the trains. He held a long pole with a hook on the end which held a package , letters, whatever. The train would zoom by so fast while a man snagged the whatever. Daddy was so close to it. I feared for his life. I hid under a desk until it was gone, & I heard him climbing the stairs back up to the tower.
I love band music. In high school, I was head majorette, so I led the band, blew the whistle for it to play at every football game & town parade. After that, it was the Penn State Blue Band. When I attended, no girls were allowed in the band. There was no majorette. Of course that has changed now, and I still enjoy hearing it play at every game. They do little dances when they get off the buses and march to the stadium. They will do that today when we beat Auburn !!!
The sound of my now deceased dad's wingtips walking on gritty sidewalks. That sound evokes so many fond memories of holding his hand while walking.
I also love train horns as it reminds me of summertime. I'd only hear them when our windows were open and there was no wind to dissipate their sound from down on the flatland of our little city up to the hills where we lived.
One more, foghorns. Cozy. Or as they say in Denmark 'hyggeligt'!
I love the sound of waves rolling onto the shore, the steady rhythm of the waves coming in and going out. My happy place is sitting on a beach in my beach chair staring out over the horizon and just listening. It’s soothing and constant. No matter what’s going on in my life, it calms me.
Having grown up on the banks of the mighty Ohio River and being near the C & O Railway, the sounds of the deep-throated diesels in a tug pushing barges together with an intense slight shaking of the land from diesels in a locomotive awakened me on occasion but was always a refreshing sound of progress bouncing off of nature in the hills of Tanyard Hollow, Greenup County, Commonwealth of Kentucky. The economy of our nation flowing on the rivers and being pulled along the railways establish historical connections for many who cherish a respect for several cultures joining together as a community. Thank you kindly.
When my husband and I began dating, I lived at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. The sound of the waves were part of my daily life. But the sound I remember the most from that time was while laying in bed looking at the moon over the ocean, we’d hear the sound of a train almost a mile away. We’d both say: “Train” and we’d listen until the sound faded away and then he’d leave for his own home. Once we lived together in that condo, for 15 years, we’d still say: “Train” to each other every time it rumbled by in the middle of the night and smile and remember the beginning. I miss the Atlantic and I miss that train but my husband is still by my side and life is good.
I love the sound of freight trains, when I hear them in a not to far distance they remind me of another place and time, always reminiscent of days and times gone by, but also with anticipation for what tomorrow can bring! Thanks for this post and all the lovely answers. ❤️🌞🙂
I too love the sound of a train. Sadly, the trains that go through my area are now silenced. It's both dangerous and the loss of a beautiful, comforting, placemaking sound.
Cicadas ,crickets,tree frogs---the summer thrum of life. That's one,. I hesitate to call it my favorite, but your post makes grateful that I can hear, that's for sure!
When I was a boy of 16, I worked as a cub reporter on a small afternoon daily newspaper. The day began at 7 am and finished at 2 pm when the old presses began rumbling out back. Everyone else would go home, a bar or on an assignment. I'd sit alone in the dingy newsroom. The rumble of presses satisfied me for the rest of my working life. Good times or bad, that sound helped me through.
I love trains. I'm so old that I took the train to college, from Missouri to Idaho and back at the end of the term. It took 35 hours. I loved going through Wyoming at night, the gentle rocking motion of the train and the sound of the wheels on the track. Once in a while, I would hear the sound of the train whistle coming from the engine up ahead. It was the best way to rest and clear my head after finishing final exams.
One other sound that I love is gentle rustling of the wind in the tops of the trees when going to sleep in my little two person tent when camping in the mountain woods.
Thank you. You took me back to my childhood home. I too would lay in bed, with a cool breeze coming into my window. I could hear the metal wheels of a passing train behind our house, clackity clackity, clack in the far back field. I would soon drift off & dream of destinations far away.
There are two sounds I love from childhood also. One is the distant sound of the train’s horn. The train station in our town on Long Island was about a mile from our house. On quiet summer nights, when the windows were open, you could hear the train blow its horn as it went past the station in our town. It was low and muffled. Like with you, it meant that I was safe, in bed, at home, and would soon be asleep. It is also associated with the aroma of flowers and trees and warm but comfortable weather that you could feel and smell with the open windows. Even today… 70 years later… When I hear a train horn or whistle in the distance, I can’t help but smile. Another sound I love, having been an ardent Brooklyn Dodgers fan, is the crack of a bat hitting a ball. We Brooklyn Dodgers fans loved the Dodgers so much and it was a real thrill to sit in Ebbetts field… or to watch the games on TV…or listen to them on the radio. The crack of the bat hitting the ball always meant excitement. Just took my grandsons to the recent Dodgers – Padres game and the first time I heard that crack of the bat last weekend, I couldn’t help but smile and remember that same sound from so long ago.
There’s nothing like the soothing sound of rain
Two sounds are most memorable and almost restorative to me: The sound of a train in the distance and the sounds of the ocean.
As a kid visiting my Grandma in Nova Scotia, I would stay up late listening to trains come and go across the harbor in Sydney and looking out the bedroom window to see their lights reflect off the water. I got so good at identifying the sound and volume, I could accurately tell the crossings for which they blew the horn.
The ocean, especially along the coast of Maine is nature's symphony: the waves coming ashore, the calls of seabirds, the wind through trees reduced to scrubs among the rocks. It makes you leave the din of the world behind.
It's interesting that you mention trains. I am a train lover, and my memories of visiting my grandparents on a farm in north central Missouri and listening to steam trains rolling along, only seeing the smoke and hearing the whistle many miles away, especially at night. Then the quietness of the evening and listening to the whipper wills. The end of the steam age of railroading. I still love to hear a steam train and its whistle and bell. Damn, I'm getting old.
My favorite sounds default to those nature sounds to which you referred: the sound of the waves rolling onto the beach. The sound of the fallen leaves rustling in the autumn wind. The peaceful sound of a gentle snowfall in winter. The sound of birds chirping in the spring. These sounds bring me peace and remind me of the magnificent creations all around us that I appreciate with such awe.
My childhood home had train tracks nearby and I would open my bedroom window to hear the train at night. Now that I live in Boise, my calming sounds are birds, leaves rustling in the wind, and best of all, that wonderful deep sigh from my dog. I tell my friends that sigh means "i love you"