by Lauren Elrick
"Now that the bad weather had come, we could leave Paris for a while for a place where this rain would be snow coming down through the pines and covering the road and the high hillsides and at an altitude where we would hear it creak as we walked home at night."
- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I’ll start with the sounds of home, because they are the most comforting.
It’s winter now in Minnesota. I live in the older part of Saint Paul, in a brick apartment several blocks from the cathedral and next to a neighborhood of both mansions and cottages protected by the historical society. In the early dark of morning, the wood floors creak and groan as I walk to pull the shade from the wide white window back onto its hook. The stars are still piercingly silent at this hour. A click and a hiss and the radiator gently shudders on. I hear a rushing from the old, stately dining room and wonder if a river is spilling onto the floor under the chandelier, but it’s just the hum and pour of steam filling the iron cast grate. The floor shifts and lumps beneath me, compressed with age, and I wander into the kitchen to turn on the coffeemaker. The dark roast drips slowly into my mug, and then, the bustle of roommates, the running of the sink and plastic clack of toothbrushes being pulled from their holders, the sizzle of an egg in a frying pan. We are filling this 6AM hour with all the proper sounds.
At night, it’s the rivulet of wine dropping into the wine glass and the quietest of rustling as I pull a blanket from the woven basket in the corner. I hear doors in the hall of the apartment building open and shut and the clump of boots down the steps as the woman from next door, bundled, pushes out into the falling snow. She gives private opera lessons, and occasionally, we’ll hear a man’s deep, bellowing voice sail through the walls. When that happens, I have to pause and listen. With a click, I flip on the light switch, and the lights on our porch blink on into the dark. Classical Ludovico Einaudi drifts from the other room, and I settle down to burgundy beef stew, a thick piece of bread with butter, and the sigh of paper that comes when you turn the page of a book.
When I work, the sounds are more a hum and buzz than anything else. To write, I often will frequent the coffee shop on Grand Avenue and sit near the fireplace. The crackle of wood, the drone of espresso machines, and the chatter from customers in line purchasing Christmas drinks always gives rise to words in my head. There’s the ticking of keyboard keys, the shy hello from a little girl waiting for her mother to finish ordering, the holler of strangers’ names when their lattes are finished and cooling on the pick-up counter.
Sometimes, when the seat by the fireplace is taken, I sit on a tall stool and place my computer on the long, birch wood table by the window. Then, I can see the cars rush past and the people walking by on the sidewalk. Since the weather has turned cold, there is a crunch of snow under the wheels of city busses and trucks as they roll to a stop at the intersection near Oxford. I can hear the muffled laughter of two passersby as they struggle to trade the leashes of their dogs. Noiselessly, the stoplights blink red, yellow, then green, and the strung lights on the trees across the street glow slowly above the shops as the light grows dim.
There is variance in the sounds of play, but some of the best are that of when we go hiking. There is the shifting of the ice on the St. Croix River as it cracks and booms between the bluffs. As we scale a hill, clinging to spindly tree trunks, the bark on birches and maples flakes and falls—papery sounds. Birds flit from one branch to another, warbling to each other. The woods are heavy with quiet in some places, and every now and then, we spot a rabbit or fox trotting quietly off into the brush with something in its mouth.
As we reach higher altitude, the wind gusts by, and we pull our scarves closer to our faces. The sun is bright and glinting off the snow, and we can see for miles over the river and even to the cars passing by as tiny specks on the old Stillwater bridge. Occasionally, we’ll pass a lone snowshoer or cross-country skier, and we’ll wave muted hellos to each other from inside our bundled knits. The air is strikingly clear and cold. But then, after a while of wandering up the paths, we’re alone in the great wide forest again. The evergreens are backlit against the blue-white of sky, and in a pulsing silence, we hear nothing but the crush of snow under our boots.
How do you think of people?
by Lauren Elrick
What do people look like in your mind?
Whether consciously or unconsciously, when you think of someone, you call to mind an abstract image: a place, objects, an action that specific person is doing. You see her hands pouring a steaming mug of cider or the wool hat he always wears when walking by the lake. Sometimes when I think of people, it’s several actions layered on top of each other: the compilation of their essence.
For instance, when I think of Amy, I see her at her home in the country. I see her cooking, offering wine and hospitality, the horses munching slowly as the light of day fades, and the food simmering easily in a pan. She has straight hair that’s always flattering no matter how she wears it and a killer sense of style. When she starts a fashion blog someday, I’ll be following it. She’s always the one who just gets it, who will tell it to me straight, and will always be there. She’s unpredictable yet consistent which is a paradox I love about her, and she takes time for the beautiful things in life. I see her playing cards with her family, the field by her house, the pictures of her in England, and the instrumental music in the morning.
And Drew, when I think of him, I see him making things. He’s a creator at heart, an artist and a woodworker. I see him in the garage he’s turned into a makeshift workshop or drawing in his sketchbook or arranging shapes and lines in his design programs. I see how he looks at people when he’s considering them and hoping to know them more deeply, and the quiet decidedness in his eyes. I think about how he fixes things, both material and immaterial, how he asks the questions that need to be asked, his love of knowledge and happenings. I see him outside by the fire, cinnamon whiskey in cups and steak grilling, the wood in the garage, and the sky darkening beyond the trees.
When I think about Elsie, I see her wide eyes and gracefulness. She’s fluid in how she moves because of her years dancing with the Minnesota Ballet company. I see her hair in a short ponytail and her Mary-Jane walking shoes. She has insight pooled in a place deep inside her, and I’m always startled but glad when we think differently from one another. I see the humor we share, her intense empathy and intuitiveness. I think of brushing our teeth in the same bathroom together, day after day, and how we both take joy in everyday moments of togetherness like those. I see us eating breakfast on the floor in our old apartment and praying in the middle of hard nights. I see her loving her husband and family, her fervent journaling, and the explanation of a lovely and extraordinary dream she had over breakfast.
How to describe these three in just a paragraph each? All the times we’ve loved each other and hurt each other and cared for one another. How to bottle up their essence and layers in just a few, short sentences?
When I think about it, I’m always surprised and happy that each person is so intensely complicated and profound. I think it’s a beautiful gift that we get the years that we do on this earth to know people and be known.
Who could refrain that had a heart to love
and in that heart, courage to make love known?
- William Shakespeare