Sunday, August 08, 2010

Country Exile

Writers note detail. We gather it in, and then selective expel it to create mood, or plot, or character. Observation is an important talent, and one which needs to be cultivated. I've worked at this skill, developing a stream-of-consciousness description of what I see.

It has driven many a student crazy.

Usually in an English class, I'll pounce on an unsuspecting teen, beginning a rapid commentary as they enter the room, describing out loud what I see and hear.

"John entered the room, shaking his head as he moved to his seat. He slumped into his desk, slightly red-faced, refusing to look up or acknowledge his teacher. 'Stop,' he said. 'Stop,' he said again, but more firmly."

Making the move from city to a rural area helped make me more aware of the importance of observational details, perhaps because the contrast is so stark that it demands definition.

For instance, in Detroit, I found comfort in the "whump-whump-whump" of an overhead police helicopter, or the lonely thump of bass from a passing vehicle with its radio turned up to deafen. Sirens? Let me roll over and return to snoring.

In the rural area there is usually deadly stillness. The world holds its breath. Oh, occasionally if you listen, you might hear something far off. Late at night, you can make out a low thrumming noise, which is a freighter moving slowly down the St. Clair River. Or if it's misty, you'll hear the fog horn as it passes. But except for the 4th of July, when every mother's son for miles around sets off firecrackers (it's their idea of 3D entertainment), the night brings a quiet that intimidates even the animals into muting their late night calls. Sure, there's an infrequent window of quiet in the city, when one can hear a car passing from a block over, or the hum of electrical wires, or the changing of a stoplight, but the stillness is punctuated by little sounds.

In the country, the stillness is punctuated by more stillness.

Perhaps the gift of being a writer and working on observational skills and detailing the world around you is that you see things with an appreciative eye. The world doesn't pass in a blur, it slows down and demands to be noticed.


Jemi Fraser said...

Nice post. :)

It's amazing what our senses tell us when we really look and listen. Great description.

Kate Sterling said...

Great imagery throughout, Stewart.

SQT said...

We live in the suburbs so we have the typical sounds that go with that--kids playing basketball and riding their skateboards down the street. But my favorite sound is late at night when the trains go by. They're not too close to us but I can still hear the thrum of the train on the tracks and the echo of the whistle. Man, I love that.

Btw, I am going to get that post done. I'm having a bit of a hard summer (joint pain-- my Dr. is thinking arthritis. Ack) and blogging hasn't been a high priority. I hate to be so flaky but sometimes... it just works out that way.

Charles Gramlich said...

My observastions in nature far overwhelm my ability to observe civilization. People just don't do it for me.

Steve Buchheit said...

I find that the rural sounds also change with the season. Yesterday morning woke to the sounds of the turkeys passing through my yard. Earlyu in the year I fall asleep to the sound of the owls moving through and the spring peepers. And through it all, the drone of cicadas. The sound of breakfast means the rising wings of doves. The evening entertainment to the screech of the bluejays. And in the winter, the sound of snow falling through the trees and the solitary clopping of horses carrying the Amish home.