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.
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.
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.
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.
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.