by Hugh Gilmore

Hugh contemplaes a portable phonograph for his 'music for Reading' LP.

“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Almost everywhere I go, mine is the only head in the room that would turn if you called, “Dinner!” or yelled, “Tea Party attack!” Everyone else seems to be wearing brain-suckers in their ears.

“Nah,” you say, “they’re just listening to music.”

Oh, well, that must be some pretty swell music if so many people wear those ear probes full-time. I see their jammed buds as they ride busses, trains, airplanes, walk down the street, sit and drink coffee, drive their cars, walk in the woods, or exercise in the gym – in short: anywhere and everywhere.

Was I missing out on something important?

If I asked every person in the nation wearing earphones what he or she was listening to, would I ever hear anything that would justify firing a telegram to Walden Pond:

Henry David Thoreau:

STOP. COME BACK.
MUST HEAR THIS.

What song might be worth interrupting his reflections? Something precious and powerful, I guess, if it provoked HDT to abandon philosophy.
At a house sale six years ago I bought several hundred rare blues CDs for a dollar each. Very exciting. I couldn’t wait to get home and hear them.
But a year went by without my finding the time.

At dinner one night, I shared my dilemma with friends: I couldn’t listen to music and write. And certainly not when I read. How would I ever find the time?

“Easy,” one of my friends said, “Get one of those new iPods.”

“Then what?”

“You load all your favorite music on the device and listen to it when you want.”

“I don’t have any free time.”

“Don’t you like to take walks?”

“Yes.”

“Listen then. You’re not doing anything but walking.”

Oh boy. My problem was solved. On March 13, 2006, I drove out to CompUSA, and bought a sleek, black, smaller-than-a-cigarette pack, Apple iPod Nano G4. Just a gorgeous little machine. I put it on my desk and went out to take a walk.

Out in the open air, feeling a breeze against my cheeks, I always lift my face to the sun sometime in the first minute and remember my friends and family now departed from this sweet earth. I think of my son, Colin, now gone, and I tap my heart with my fist lightly to say “Your dad remembers you, and misses you.” Next I greet my friend, John O’Brien with another heart tap. And my Mom and my Dad. And my Aunt Anna and Uncle Fred. And my sister Loretta, and my dear in-laws, Jerome and Jessica Goodman. Anyone else?    Oh, yes: the gravestone of my old mentor, Loren Eiseley “We loved the earth, but could not stay.” So, I say hello to Loren, too. And some fallen classmates. I finish up with “The rest of yiz will have to take care of yerselves.” This all takes a minute, about fifty steps.

My duty done, I’m free to enjoy my thoughts. I never fear being caught alone because the people I’ve met and books I’ve read, and things I’ve seen, keep me company. Now’s the time to digest it all, to make sense of the world with no machines between me and myself.

There is air to be breathed. Trees to be watched. Other walkers to notice or figure out, or make up stories about. And I must think about the novel I’m writing, of course. Anything above 40 degrees is “plot weather,” meaning it’s warm enough to meander while I work out tomorrow’s scene.

I’ll see a tree up ahead sometimes and watch its lowest branches right up till the time I pass under them. If I do it right, I’ll feel I’m on a raft in a river and I think how much I loved reading “Huckleberry Finn” when was a boy and how mightily his river has figured in my dreams and my personal imagery ever since.

Sometimes I think my soul resides in my heart, because when I come back from a “cardio” exercise like this, I feel renewed and at peace with the world. Then I happen to see my iPod Nano box and feel guilty. I shouldn’t let it sit around. That would be a waste of money. And all those Blues CDs stacked on my bookcase shelves. All those unheard notes. Such a shame.

I guess it’s obvious that I don’t want an electronic device humming in my ears while I take my pleasure walks. Nor when I’m driving because I like to use my car as a thinking booth.

And working around the house? I like the sounds tools make, even the swishing of a paintbrush. And in the yard, the insect/bird/wind-in-the-trees symphony sounds so righteous I don’t think I could give it up for Ludwig Van himself.

Wish I knew where I went wrong. I seem to have trapped myself in a corner by making my relationship with the world so intense. I don’t know what to give up in order to add this iPod to my life.