I Heard There Was a Secret Chord that David Played, and It Pleased the Lord

What are your favorite sounds?

Here are some of mine: Orchestras tuning up. Rain on the roof of a parked car. Bagpipes. Walking through autumn leaves. Thunderstorms.
I’m home again; I got home just in time for tropical storm Fay. I spent Thursday through Saturday listening to some pretty dramatic sounds, torrential rain and scary bursts of wind, as Fay crawled her way across northeast Florida. On Friday morning, Cordelia called me. “We just moved our cars to higher ground,” she said. (Cordelia lives about six blocks from me and only one block from the St John’s River, which was flooding.) “Want to come over for waffles?”
I looked out the window. Rain poured from the sky and half a palm tree was floating down the street. I said, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Well, at the very least,” she said, “you need to come see the river. It’s almost up to our street and it has waves like the ocean. And soon it’ll be high tide!”
Here’s the thing: a few years back, I wrote a leveled reader about storm safety for a grade school social studies program. “Do not, under any circumstances,” I wrote, “go outside during a flood to watch the water rising. The majority of people who drown during floods are sightseers.” I remember thinking to myself, God, people are stupid. They’re dying of stupidity, not floodwater.
Well, now I get it. People are stupid. I’m stupid. Honestly, how could I not go to see the river?

Not owning galoshes, I concocted a pair of garbage bag boots, on the theory that it was one thing to risk being drowned and another altogether to offer myself up to the whims of flesh-eating bacteria. Then I armed myself with my sparkly purple iridescent umbrella and marched outside, making my way down the middle of the street, because instinct told me that it would be the clearest route for pedestrians. Trucks wound their way slowly around me. The rain pounded down and the water was high. Gusts of wind blew so strongly that I began to be fearful for my sparkly purple iridescent umbrella, which happens to be one of my favorite possessions. Deciding I’d rather get wet than risk breaking my favorite umbrella, I closed it, and soldiered on. A few minutes later I noticed — and honestly, for the sake of my self-respect, I almost wish I hadn’t noticed — that while I was ploughing down the middle of the street, winding through traffic, water above my shins, the sidewalks to either side were high and dry.
Let me just make sure you have this picture straight: It is pouring rain. I am cradling a closed umbrella to my chest protectively, much as one might do with an injured child. I am wading heroically through water to my knees, trucks cautiously inching around me, despite perfectly serviceable sidewalks to either side. And I have garbage bags duct-taped to both of my legs. Any of you who’ve read Graceling and imagined that its author possesses the skills or attitudes of its protagonist should now be relieved of your misapprehensions.
When I got to the river, yes, wow, the river was not where it was supposed to be — or rather, it was where it was supposed to be, but it was other places, too, and rearing like a demon dragon and spitting backwash onto Cordelia’s street, and I decided that there was no way I was getting anywhere close enough to it for it to drown me. I waded down Cordelia’s sidewalk (hers was not dry) and arrived at her door in a desolate state. Both of my garbage bag boots had sprung leaks. But Cordelia and Joe gave me towels and dressed me up all warm and made comforting pronouncements about how I was the last gal on earth who would ever catch the eye of a flesh-eating bacterium, and sat me down with the remote for the TiVo and made me waffles while I watched the Olympics and the water rose outside. The TiVo was lovely. The waffles were delicious. And by the time I left, I was much more prepared for the journey in than I’d been for the journey out, on account of this time I was wearing double garbage bag boots, with grocery bag socks, and I knew to keep to the sidewalks. See? We make mistakes so that we will learn.
I got home, curled up with a blanket and some tea, and didn’t go out again until Saturday evening, by which time the storm had passed. Trees were down everywhere, and lots of trash was lying around, left behind by the river. Good on you, river, for throwing up all that plastic and styrofoam and crappy crap. If only I could believe you got rid of all the trash in your belly. How does so much trash get into our river?
Today it’s still raining, on and off, but the birds are chirping again, and the saws are buzzing as people dig out from under fallen trees. It’s been a big weekend for big sounds, and for curling up with books and writing and music.
Here are some lovely things I’ve been listening to besides stormy weather:
  • Brahms’ Requiem, which my father gave to me, knowing how much I love Mozart’s Requiem. Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra version, directed by James Levine, with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård.
  • The Into the Wild soundtrack, songs written and performed by Eddie Vedder — acoustic strings and his wonderful voice. Super! (And check out the movie, too.)
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful, by James Herriot, read by Christopher Timothy (who played James Herriot on the old TV show All Creatures Great and Small). Do you know these books? Herriot was a farm veterinarian in Yorkshire in the 1930s and 40s and wrote the most wonderful stories about his experiences…. and Christopher Timothy does a marvelous job performing them. They’re especially good for listening to on airplanes. No doubt my airplane neighbors are puzzled to find me weeping one minute, and shouting with laughter the next.
What are you listening to?

(Btw, my title is from the song “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Cohen and covered a gazillion times. I am partial to the Jeff Buckley version. Also, Kirkus gave Graceling a star, woot woot!)