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Posts Tagged ‘Clocks’

I was born in Northern California, and all my young life, I was lulled to sleep by sounds of the night.

In the spring, the tadpoles came into frog-hood and set up a chorus that filled the moonlit air. On mist-shrouded evenings, the foghorns mourned across San Rafael Bay. On trips to the coast, the darkness was awash with the rumble-rush of waves and the bark of seals. And always, everywhere, as soon as twilight settled in, crickets began to sing, each one weaving a thread into the tapestry of sound, one reedy note at a time, to blanket the night.

The sound of crickets, ubiquitous and constant, came to mean something to me. Unknowingly, cricketsong meant home, security, and peace.

Then I moved to Seattle.

For months after moving here, I felt uneasy, unsettled. Even after I got a permanent job, a spot in the regional orchestra, and moved into a cute bungalow in a quiet neighborhood, I felt…at odds with the place. It struck me one evening when I was out tending the garden. It was a bucolic scene: the light had moved from dusk into gloaming, the horses across the bridle trail that backed our yard munched contentedly at grass, and the scent of roses was thick after the day’s warmth.

And nothing made a sound. No frogs, no night-birds, not even a cricket.

Seattle, as it turns out, has no crickets. I’m guessing that this is due to the moisture and the lack of summer heat, but I don’t know. What I do know is that crickets will sing constantly through the evening unless you come near them. Thus, a night without cricketsong felt ominous, as if something was out there, lurking, silencing the crickets with its presence.

I got used to it, over time, learning to sleep well and find peace without cricket-aid. And then, last night, I replaced my electric alarm clock.

The Lux “Symphony” is a wonderful piece of Art Deco design from the 1930s and, after a good cleaning/oiling, mine now runs perfectly. Last night, I took my electric clock away and put the Lux on the nightstand.

Laying down to sleep, I felt suddenly younger. It wasn’t hard to pinpoint the source. The sound of the clock’s mechanism, the twice-per-second tick of the brass and steel escapement, made a quiet background noise that filled a void in my brain. The Lux had become, in essence, a mechanical cricket, and its constant, unerring heartbeat struck within me a chord long left silent. I slept well and woke refreshed; it may be coincidence, but something tells me otherwise.

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Last month, the power went out on a windless day. Last month, we took a small step away from the digital age. These two events are not unrelated.

Unlike our last home, where the power went out any time a dog barked, the infrastructure surrounding our current residence is fairly robust. So we were surprised one quiet evening when, with only a slight breeze and no rain outside, the house went dark. In the sudden silence I could just hear all the hard drives spin down and all the electronic doo-dahs begin to tick as they cooled. The house, without power, felt dead.

And just as we found the electric bill and the number for the outage hot line, the power came back on.

Leaving me with the task of going around the house, resetting the little red digits on each and every clock and appliance, save the DVRs, which (being rented) are new enough to figure it out for themselves.

I detest this chore. Twice a year, on spring-forward/fall-back Sundays (don’t get me started), I have to do this chore, and if the power goes out, I have to do it again. I hate it. It’s tedious, numbing, and (in my opinion) unnecessary. And when I have to do it because the power went out for just a couple of minutes? Ooooooh. Stay away.

After some discussion and some rather blatant lobbying reminiscent of a child asking Mum and Dad for a puppy, I began to replace our red LED digital clocks with real clocks. For the most part, I replaced them with clocks that go “tick tock,” and several of which announce the hour with chimes or a gong. Being at least as old as I am, all of the clocks required a complete breakdown, cleaning, and oiling, but for me, this was part of the journey; this made them ours, part of our house, much more so than had we bought them at Target and put them right on the shelf.

It’s hard to describe the difference in the house, now. Aside from the obvious—the music of the Westminster on the quarter hours, the bong of the chimer on the half-hour—there is another, subtler effect. There are still a few to go—an alarm clock here, a display clock there—but already the house is a much calmer place. The rooms of our house, each with their small, wood-encased heartbeat, seem more alive. We both find that we like the house quieter, now. The television is off more. We read more, or tinker with small projects. And now, late at night or when the power goes out, time continues, the house lives on, and the steady tick of a nearby clock reassures us, its pendulum measuring out each quiet moment.

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