“There is nothing better than the sounds of a late August evening on the farm." New Farmer’s Dictionary — 1st edition
There is nothing better than to sit on the farm porch during a late summer evening listening to the sounds of nature. The insects, night birds, and wind through the pines all blend together in perfect symphonic harmony. One of my favorite songs comes from the musical Oklahoma. The musical opens with the song, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!" The third verse of the song contains, in part, the following lyrics: "All the sounds of the earth are like music.." Rogers and Hammerstein certainly got that right!
This past week, I have been contemplating the nature of sound as I work on our farm. Few would deny that there are such things as good sounds and bad sounds, although to which category a sound belongs is partially based on personal preference. For example, most would agree that a contented cat’s purr is a good sound unless, of course, you hate cats. Bad sounds can be good sounds if they warn you of impending events. The same cat coughing up a hair ball is a bad sound, but good, if you can toss the cat outside before it manages to hack it up.
Believe it or not, there are people who seriously contemplate what makes sounds good or bad. Not long ago I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a distinguished music professor in Massachusetts. It seems our taste in sounds probably goes back to the very dawn of mankind. Those who recognized the tiger’s growling as an unwelcomed dinner invitation probably lived to listen another day. On the other hand, a bubbling brook was a wonderful sound to thirsty travelers. Simply put, a good sound welcomes and a bad sound threatens.
Music, of course, caters to these primordial feelings. Close, soft melodies imitate the harmonics of a flowing stream or the wind through the trees. Clashing notes may imitate the violence of a summer’s thunderstorm. The "Grand Canyon Suite" by Grofe is such an example.
Of course, sound discrimination is also a learned behavior. In my own case, simply hearing the cracking wrapper of a Little Debbie snack starts my mouth watering and my stomach growling.
Consider also the common car. Over time, most of us who drive have learned what noises cars should and should not make. My wife has become extremely adept at this, as I believe most women are. While I am often in denial, she is quick to notice every squeal, thump, and ping that does not belong.
While I attempt to convince myself that it’s just the car’s "wrangerthumpdigit" and means nothing, especially if the sound goes away, she is far less content to let sleeping sounds lie. Which means, of course, that if it wasn’t for my wife, I would be the one eaten by the tiger — or at least in the car’s case, to be left broken down alongside some forgotten road to mournfully contemplate my fate.
Such was the case in 1995 when I ignored all warning sounds and ended up stranded along some Iowa highway for more than six hours. Although one can do almost anything with duct tape, constructing a car’s fan belt is not one of them. Why American males often ignore such sounds can be explained simply.
The training begins early in adolescence. By the time the American male has matured, he, along with his male friends, has probably self-generated so many disgusting sounds in the guise of amusement that his powers of discrimination have all but disappeared.
Every day, we make hundreds of judgements based on the sounds we hear and the interpretation of words that are spoken. One who has "sound judgement" makes such decisions wisely. Perhaps one on the best sounds I’ve ever heard was on a starry Colorado night forty-four years ago when I asked my wife to marry me. My wife’s reply of "yes" was music to my ears and certainly showed she had excellent taste. It’s also why I’ve never questioned her judgement since.
Jeff and Kathy Crisler own a farm where they raise bees, berries and blisters. They are both retired and have two children and six grandchildren. Jeff wrote this column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.