The song of the earth

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The moan, rush, roar of the wind through trees.  The creak of branches and rattle of sticks.  The howl and whistle of wind round the house and down the chimneys.  The patter and gurgle of rain on leaves or windows.  The bone-vibrating boom of thunder.  I never tire of the sounds the weather makes.  These are sounds that surround me and seep into my soul.  That remind me how small I am and how wild the world is.  Depending where I am, they can make me feel protected or broken open, as though there’s no boundary between me and the elements.

Some of my favourite sounds are those that echo through the night, piercing the darkness.  When the day is fully dawned the world is taken over by a chaos of sounds – traffic, industry, voices.  But the distant, melancholy sounds of night and river speak to something inside me:  the moan of the fog horn, the blart of a ship setting out to sea, the clock tower striking across the water.  They speak of other worlds far away and make me revel in the solitude of the darkness.

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The sound of the sea is a symphony of bubbles.  Each bubble is made of gas, surrounded by liquid and each one has it’s own note, like a tiny bell.  The bubble expands and contracts and it’s that pulsing that contributes to the roar of waves that we know as the sound of the sea.  Like the weather, the song of the sea sometimes calms me with its lullaby of waves tickling the shore, and sometimes fills me with the excitement of being alive, with the boom of breakers on the rocks.

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Every day the chatter of birds cheers me: the exuberant squawk of herring gulls, the eerie scream of black-headed gulls, the harsh caw of crows.  Before dawn, the vibrato of the robin shatters the morning.  In town, the gentle coo of pigeons soothes and the chirps and whistles of starlings exhilarates.  I am a child of the town, so I take pleasure in being serenaded by these so-called common birds.  But when I have the opportunity to hear them I love the hollow sound of a woodpecker drumming, echoing in the forest, the hoot of tawny owls in the darkness, the clatter of a pheasant’s call.

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When I was a child, I had recurring ear infections that affected my hearing.  I have little memory of the pain, but this time is marked out for me by the sound of marching.  I know now that this beat was that of the internal sounds of my body amplified by the absence of those from the outside world: my heartbeat, my blood pulsing.  But as a child, it was disconcerting, sometimes scary, to be filled with the sound of marching.  I recall the sensation of ears swollen with pain, almond oil and cotton wool. I remember the vivid pink and sickly taste of penicillin.   I recall the cool leatherette of headphones as I listened for the sounds of buzzers at different frequencies to test my hearing.  Ear infections are miserable, not only because of the pain but because of the isolation.  You feel divided from the world, existing within your head, the only sounds you hear are those of self and body.  It feels lonely.

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Having been without it, I appreciate the connection to the world that hearing gives me.  Hearing expands my world, not only enriching the things I can see, but alerting me to those I can’t: a ship on the river, a bird hidden in a tree.  Yet my sound of choice is often that of silence.  Silence is never really empty.  It has a hum, perhaps even a heartbeat, a pulse that isn’t quite audible, but that fills the air with expectation.  The sound of an empty house, the stillness before a storm, a remote location, the hush of falling snow.  Silence is relief and comfort, but it is also potential.  The song of the earth is both silence and clamour and if there was no other music to delight in, its melody would be more than enough.

This post was prompted by a mini-series on the senses by the talented Teagan Geneviene over at Teagan’s Books.  Take part in the challenge here.

98 thoughts on “The song of the earth

  1. Ahhh… no wonder this sense was special to you. I know you have a huge sense of gratitude for your hearing. Andrea, it shows in your vivid descriptions of these sounds. Your words are absolutely thrilling. Thanks so much for the mention. Mega hugs! 🙂
    Oh, next weekend I’m working with the sense of smell. Feel free to “come out and play” any time, in any order, whenever you can.

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  2. I love how you describe the ocean as a symphony of bubbles. Great imagery there. The sounds in darkness always feel more mysterious to me. And I love how you give us this great personal story at the end to drive home why sounds matter so much to you–this is a great piece of writing. 🙂

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  3. Loved reading this sheer poetry, very soothing to the senses, absolutely calming…evoking all those images through the beautiful choice of words.
    Thank you so much for such an enriching poetic prose. 🙂

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  4. Very nice. I resonate with a lot of what you mentioned. I have never been much for the sea, but the rivers, the trees, and wooded nature, the sounds of vast fields of crops waving in the breeze, those all touch my soul. Thanks for reminding me. Spring is coming and those sounds are wonderful. I also do find the quiet of winter broken by the gusts of wind give me a good feeling deep down.

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  5. I love those sounds, too, Andrea — the song of the earth. They connect us like no other. I miss the sounds of the ocean and the sea gulls and fog horns that go with it.

    Instead,, here in the mountains, I have the sound of a distant wind coming through the trees and moving until it’s almost on top of you then passes by as if on it’s way on a journey. Also, the hush of the earth from a lightly falling snow. So still, you can almost hear each snowflake as it makes its way to the ground.

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  6. Beautiful words, Andrea, and your photos are wonderful. One of my favorite sounds is the sound of solitude. Although some days, it’s difficult to hear and I must go in search of it.
    I’m sorry you suffered with ear infections as a child.

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  7. What a fabulous post, I was just thinking the other night about sounds, the wind blowing is one of my favoriiates along with the rain drops on the roof outside my window, but then I am jostled by the sound of trucks barrelling over the speed bump in front of my house the thud when they go over it at a high speed and come crashing down is a sound I despise. I am so loving Teagans mini series and I love that this ties in with it. You are both very talented.

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    • Thank you! It is an inspiring mini-series of Teagan’s. I dislike the sounds of traffic, though the only trucks that come down our street tend to be a bit exciting as they’re usually carrying Metro train carriages from the railway yard at the end of the road – it’s quite thrilling to watch a train carried down your road!

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  8. Andrea, your writing is always so beautiful that most of the time I don’t know what to say. However, I was especially taken by the hearing section toward the end, and how you tied that to the piece. I always had ear infections as a child, and I can totally relate. I despised those hearing tests, because I feared I would never pass them.

    As I got older, the ear infections subsided once I got better control over my allergies. Living in the Pacific Northwest has really helped my sinus issues and I’ve been a neti user for about seven years. Naturally I love all of my senses to pieces, but hearing is such an important one—nature, music, laughter…hard to imagine a life without them.

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    • Thanks Britt. I had glue ear but once I had an operation it cleared up, though I still think I don’t hear quite as well as other people – I’m glad to say I’ve only had one bad ear infection as an adult – but it reminded me of how miserable it was.

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      • I had an inner ear infection during my last winter in Milwaukee. Had vertigo for a month and I pretty much thought I was never going to recover. Went to the doc and they couldn’t do anything besides an invasive surgery that was still iffy.

        Even though I was terrified, I did a handstand one day to see if that would help. Heard a little pop, then I was fine. Ears…they’re really something. 😉

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      • They are – I had labyrinthitis recently which is probably similar to vertigo – made me feel dizzy and sick – our ears affect us more than we realise, but I’ll remember the handstand trick – not sure if I can still do a handstand mind 🙂

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  9. Andrea, this is such an evocative post. I, too, lost my hearing as a child, only to have it return following medical treatment. To this day I find the sounds of the natural world to be miraculous and engaging, to be my preferred sounds. The song of the Earth is precious indeed.

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  10. By some coincidence, I’ve just started reading Rosumund Lupton’s latest novel, The Quality of Silence. It’s set in Alaska and one of the central characters is a girl who is deaf. I think you’d love this novel, Andrea, so I’m going to recommend that you put it on your reading list!
    Your post is just exquisite and so lyrical.
    I’m a very early riser and when I go out in the garden with my dog before dawn, I often hear a tawny owl from the nearby woods.
    Today, the wind is rushing across my garden. I like that shushing, whistling wild sound.
    My son had a perforated ear drum as a child. It made him become quite isolated for a while and he kept missing important stuff that teachers told him at school, so it got him into trouble. When I realised what was happening, I explained to the teachers that he wasn’t being naughty, then they made sure to write things down for him.

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    • Silence, snow and wilderness – definitely sounds like my kind of book Sarah, I’ve added it to my wish list! The wind has been howling around the house for the past few days, making me feel very cosy. I remember my parents going into my primary school and having that conversation with my teachers about my hearing which I think prevented any trouble!

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  11. This was a wonderful, symphonic post, Andrea! I had a harrowing experience several years ago after a botched spinal tap where my hearing was severely disrupted. It wasn’t a deafness but a constant roar, as if I were standing next to a waterfall, and it went on for nearly as many days as the crippling headache that accompanied it (one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through in my life). For years afterwards I had tinnitus, and I still have it to a much lesser degree; it no longer sounds like there’s a chorus of cicadas in my head… just crickets. So one of the great losses for me has been the loss of complete silence. As you say, silence is never truly silent, but there are places I used to seek out for the grandness of their silence — high up on the rim of desert canyonlands — but sadly this is more of a remembered soundlessness now… Still, I enjoy what I can hear of nothingness!

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    • Thanks Sunshine, your roar sounds a little like my marching – I think earache of any kind is very painful, but that sounds like a terrible experience. I’m sorry that you can’t experience the full range of silence – I do get an occasional ringing in my ears and tinnitus is one of the things I fear.

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      • There is a mental trick that I’ve used to stave it off — to listen to something, anything else the moment I notice it flaring up; tap a pencil against a desk, or listen to a clock, whatever it takes — but it doesn’t always work. When it does though, I feel quite smug and victorious!

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  12. Wonderful meditation on sounds and silence. The isolation you felt with the loss of hearing and the internal marching must have been a hard lesson to deal with as a child. Bravo to your hearing things all around you now.

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  13. This reminds me of the sounds of my childhood which because I lived in the middle of Oxford were church bells and police sirens! Lots of the bells rang the quarters as well as the hours. Maybe not surprising after that that I ended up writing crime set in Oxford. It’s odd because the noise of a police siren at night has a very soothing effect on me still – at odds with what it signifies. I live on a main road now and within spitting distance of an overground tube line and we often get workmen checking the line by bashing the rails with hammers in the middle of the night – that’s what it sounds like to me anyway! And when that happens i always think of Snow White and the seven dwarfs!

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    • It sounds as though you’ve made magic out of some less than melodious sounds Vicky! You’ve just reminded me though, we have a Metro line just a block behind the house and we sometimes have work on the lines at night – I can’t say I enjoy that, but what I do love is hearing a freight train pass on the lines in the middle of the night.

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  14. Andrea! How beautifully you describe these sounds! I too am so keenly aware having also suffered from terrible earaches as a child leaving me with a touch of hearing loss in one of my ears. The song of the wind in trees is one of my favourites too and the rain drumming on my skylight. I love that word “blart!” and the anticipation of silence. Do you know that the planets sing too and space has a heart beat!! thank you for sharing your wonderful symphony!

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  15. Sorry so late Internet must have been taking a walk with you .
    I adore this wonderful piece of writing …it feels pure winter . I just want to wrap up , get out there and come home to hot soup and my journal . Thank you for inspiring me and others .
    Cherryx

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  16. It must have been difficult for you as a child, and to still have such vivid memories of those sounds in your head gives me chills. I’m glad all is well and your hearing wasn’t permanently effected. Isn’t it wonderful how we appreciate things, the way you do these sounds many people hardly notice? Lovely descriptions.

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  17. ‘Silence is never really empty’. You capture the world of silence so beautifully Andrea, what a powerful piece you’ve written here. Once again, you remind me of the fog horn and of a life long ago, of the strange unease melting into comfort when it drifted across the bay. Always a reminder of a lonliness I could never quite shake off. You capture those sentiments perfectly for me here. I am sorry you suffered ear infections as a child. My childred did too, they are painful and horrible, but I’ve never had the experience expressed as sharply as you do here. And of course I can’t go without telling you that my heart did a dance at the photo of the robin 🙂

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  18. I so enjoyed this tribute to the gift of hearing, Andrea. Your descriptions were wonderful. I especially liked the paragraph on the “symphony of bubbles.” I hope you hear many notes on the music of life this weekend….

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  19. So visceral! And also- I could really feel that sense of harvesting the sounds of nature, which often come through in your work. I also love the ode to silence. For me these days, I’m learning to rest in the stillness more- which is counter to what I’ve cultivated in life thus far. I also really appreciated the description of the inner sounds that we often can’t hear. I wonder if the infections caused you to strengthen your inner ear more in ways that most of us don’t?

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  20. We do tend to take sound for granted, because it’s so easily available to most of us. As I read and ‘heard” your words, i was reminded of the many sounds we hear, especially when we stop to listen.

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  21. Silence is great when we choose it or find it, to have it forced upon us by ear problems is truly horrible. Silence makes one appreciate how fascinating noises are, nature is wonderful and endlessly fascinating to describe and get lost in. There is a train whistle that goes off about a mile from where I live and that always conjures up many pleasant thoughts at night.

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  22. I sometimes think hearing would be as difficult a loss for me as sight. Music has always been an important part of my life, and hearing the sounds of nature soothes my soul. I can’t imagine missing out on all of those sounds!

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  23. Andrea, your descriptions of the winter songs of the earth are so vivid that I can hear and feel them. We had 14″ of snow last week, and during the second night the wind roared its way down the mountain and between our houses. There was a melody, a hum of snow whipping against the windows. It was a comforting sound, an assurance that nature was playing the night rhythms…just as it would play the rhythms of the other seasons in turn.

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  24. “In restless dreams I walked alone
    Narrow streets of cobblestone
    Beneath the halo of a street lamp
    I turned my collar to the cold and damp
    When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence”

    I believe Paul Simon called our inner voice the “sound of silence”. Great post Andrea.

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  25. You describe this scene so well, bringing the photos to life… “The sound of the sea is a symphony of bubbles.” and there is not a greater symphony to put me at ease, wonderful post and feeling here Andrea.

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  26. Your lovely words make me realize how much extraneous (non-earth) sound clutters up my days and nights. But, for all that, I am glad I can hear. In the summer time, late at night, I sometimes hear aeroplane engines (possibly preparing for take-off or shutting down after landing). I think the noise is from the planes which travel to and from Antarctica. I found that quite exciting.

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