The early morning before sunrise is magical.
When I was a teenager, my dad would tap on our bedroom doors to awaken my sister and me early every morning. We were going running. We would roll out of bed in the dark, pull on shirts and pants, tie our shoes and meet him downstairs. To this day, I never venture outside in the predawn without thinking of him, of having that same sensation that I had then before the day had begun, before the rest of the world had stirred. It is infused in me like the smell of cinnamon or autumn leaves.
Margaret Wise Brown, universally known for her children’s classic Goodnight Moon, wrote another book that is less known but equally wonderful. In The Quiet Noisy Book,* Brown describes in exquisite detail the sounds of the world awakening. It is a study in quiet observation.
In the book, we meet Muffin, “the little dog who heard everything.” Muffin hears a tiny sound and wonders what it could be. What follows is an adventure in discovery.
What I have always loved about Brown’s book is that it is a reminder not to miss what lies underneath all the cluttered noises of the day. In our modern world, we are assaulted with sounds and motion every waking moment. Restaurants play music for their guests. Doctors’ offices run televisions to entertain waiting patients. Gas pumps, elevators, lobbies, retail stores. Everywhere. Every inch of space and air is crowded with sounds and sights that are designed to grab our attention. And sadly, they succeed.
Silence and quiet are moments disappearing from our lives.
When the noise is absent, far too many of us reach for our earbuds or televisions or the screens on our phones and laptops. We drown out and cover up the tiny sounds, the lovely details, the quiet conversations with all their depths and nuances — all the extraordinary observations of the world around us. We miss too many.
For a writer, the ability to collect details and then to translate them into words on a page is a delicate and remarkable talent. To do it well, like Brown, is a gift. Every writer should seek to cultivate the art because it is these details often overwhelmed by the cacophonies in our lives that help make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary writing.
So as a writer, while the early mornings remind me of a sweet time in my life, they also prompt me to be like Muffin — to listen carefully to the day wakening and to pay close attention to all the subtlety it holds.
The Quiet Noisy Book was illustrated by Brown’s frequent collaborator, children’s book illustrator Leonard Weisgard. Originally published in 1950, the book was reissued in 1993 by HarperCollins.