Sounds of the Season

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Memories reside in the eyes, yes, and also in the nose, from which they are awakened by sights and smells. But ears hold memories as well, memories stirred by the special songs, both secular and sacred, of this festive season. Stirred by the staccato crackling of a roaring wood fire. Stirred by the crunch of late autumn’s laggard leaves underfoot. And stirred by the animated conversations of newly arrived company bustling breathless and chilled into a warm holiday gathering.

During this season, holiday memories can be revived even (perhaps especially) by the blessed quiet of midnight’s approach, the room dark but for the glowing tree, the noisy wood fire now but a steady hiss, and the day’s (nearly the year’s) work done ... These are some of the sounds that mark and memorialize this season of contrasts: when the sacred and the silly, the sublime and the superficial, the faithful and the frenzied all jumble together in the mind and the heart and the popular imagination.

We at Cooperative Living wish for you the very best holiday season ever, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and we offer herewith our annual gift: a selection of some of our favor­ite passages from much-loved written works.

Late November brings an end to full-fledged Autumn. The lasting warmth, the balmy days, the hazy in-between time, seldom endure much beyond Thanksgiving. Then it is that the pines and hemlocks stand out in cold-season strength of green; then the white reach of the birches is clear and clean against the sky ... The season changes so slowly that I must pause and listen to hear the silence. Autumn creeps away in sandals woven of milkweed floss; Winter makes no noise until it owns the land.

— Hal Borland, This Hill, This Valley, 1957.

“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”

— Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,” from Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.

If you want to have a Christmas like the one we had on Paradise Farm when I was a boy, you will have to hunt up a salt-water farm on the Maine coast, with bays on both sides of it, and a road that goes around all sorts of bays, up over Misery Hill and down, and through the fir trees so close together that they brush you and your horse on both cheeks. That is the only kind of place a Christmas like that grows ...

And you really should cross over at least one broad bay on the ice, and feel the tide rifts bounce you as the runners slide over them. And if the whole bay booms out, every now and then, and the sound echoes around the wooded islands for miles, you will be having the sort of ride we loved to take from town, the night before Christmas.

— Robert P. Tristram Coffin, “Christmas in Maine ,” 1935, 1941.

The miracle of Christmas is that, like the distant and very musical voice of the hound, it penetrates finally and becomes heard in the heart — over so many years, through so many cheap curtain-raisers. It is not destroyed even by all the arts and craftiness of the destroyers, having an essential simplicity that is everlasting and triumphant, at the end of confusion.

 — E. B. White, “The Distant Music of the Hounds,” from The Second Tree from the Corner, 1949.


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