The sounds inside a house reflect the winter outside.
By Meg Adams
The first thing I am aware of is the sound of the coffee-maker finishing up, like the sucking of air through a straw at the bottom of a glass. From this sound I know that I have been sleeping, and that it is morning, and early — around 5:30 — and that if I were to open my eyes, it would be so dark as to make no difference if I had left them shut or not.
I am at camp, my family’s one-room cabin on Green Lake. It is February; outside, the winter wind blows around the eaves. Although a quilt drapes over the railing to separate my high, narrow loft from the rest of the dark house, it seems as though the coffeemaker could be plugged in next to my pillow. I scrunch up smaller, raising my knees and tucking my chin to keep my heat all in one place. Even though I know very well that in moments my father will be up, drinking that fresh coffee and moving around the cabin without half of the ignorable regularity of the percolator, I will myself to keep sleeping.
As a teenager, this closeness to my parents in our small camp was sometimes difficult, particularly with parents who rise so early. And yet, tucked among the eaves of my loft bedroom, I was never insensible of either the weather outside or my family’s whereabouts inside. If the wind changed directions in the middle of the night, I would note the altered sound along the windowpanes. If the ice on the lake shifted, groaning and snapping as new fissures froze and formed, I heard it. If my mother woke during the night and, unable to sleep, decided to do a crossword by the light of a small lamp at three in the morning, I knew. Our proximity to each other and to the log walls made it impossible not to notice the details, inside or out.
Now, home again on my winter break after several years away, it is the same. Even as my mind still clings to sleep, it traces the familiar morning sounds. With the squeal of the woodstove door being opened, my grip on deliberate unawareness loosens, and I wiggle a toe. Mentally, I follow my father’s movements in the open room below me.
First comes the crunching of the newspaper he rolls for the morning fire, thunderous to my silence-sharpened senses. Next there are the high, splintery bonks of kindling being arranged. Lastly, I hear the dusty, bark-shedding, newspaper-compressing sighs of the largest logs being placed on top. I open my eyes a little.
In the darkness I hear him strike the first match. It illuminates the peaked ceiling above me with a sudden light that recedes as it is thrown into the stove. A second match is lit and thrown — and then there is the quavering, growing loom as it catches and spreads, gathering light until I can make out the outline of the railing
next to me.
I will not be able to sleep now, but at least I know that I will be warm; the growing heat of the fire wards off the winter chill that has seeped into my loft during the night. I amuse myself by predicting and listening to the remainder of my parent’s morning routines. There are the first sounds of my slipper-hunting mother, the creak as she puts her feet on the floor and eases out of bed. Not long after comes the high noise of her completely integrating that spoonful of sugar into her coffee, spoon scraping around ceramic. The quiet morning greeting between my parents could almost be missed, but I hear it. Outside, the ice on the lake creaks. A soft thud marks a clump of snow falling from the roof.
A log settles, and for a moment the ceiling above me brightens perceptibly as the fire sends up a brief shower of sparks. I cannot feign sleep for much longer, but as soon as they know I, too, am awake, they will stop trying to be quiet. So I lie here, whispers of dreams not yet confusing or fascinating me because they are still too close to me to be discerned as dreams, wishing for thick socks, and wondering if I fell asleep wearing them and if they are simply buried in the tangled bedding at my feet.