In February I was in Florida, on Lake Valrico’s pier with my brother, when he spotted the snout and head of an alligator floating in the distance. Her body rose as she began to swim toward shore, and Matthew guessed she was about eight feet long.
I love alligators. They are modern dinosaurs with gorgeous, thick scales and wide grins of eighty teeth. I love how they turn easy in water, teeter on land like awkward trucks and stay mostly quiet, except in mating season, when their croaks are soothing, deep and low.
The shores of Swan Lake in Rockefeller State Park croak deep with bullfrogs in springtime. When I’m there, it takes me a moment not to look for alligators. I am always standing in two regions-north and south, cold and warm, marsh and swamp.
Strangely, this winter, Swan Lake made a croaking sound. For a second Benjamin and I were confused. It couldn’t be frogs, unless we had developed a magic ability to hear them under water, and it certainly wasn’t alligators. The croaks were followed by a higher pitched ping-ping, a sound out of place, like a vintage video game.
It was then we realized, we were listening to ice.
We were listening to a body of water breaking apart, sealing and breaking again.
Like how you read a poem.
I was enchanted by this winter listening, these quiet sounds, because lately I’ve been focused on sound more than usual. After a visit to an ENT, I was told I’ve lost some of my upper register sounds. I’m not sure, but I think hearing loss is a pretty normal part of aging (especially for someone who attended her share of loud concerts and who worked with loud young people for many years), but it was still hard to accept. The doctor assumed I did not currently work around loud noises, (because I’m a writer in a small village) but she was wrong.
From spring through summer and especially fall, I am surrounded by leaf blowers. Many people here in village-New England-suburbia are afflicted with lawn envy, a weird attraction to green grass. They don’t see the benefits of native plants bringing pollinators or how xeriscaping is not only easier and cheaper but much more visually interesting. They use leaf blowers excessively. I know some of my hearing loss is attributed to aging and past experiences, but I also know the leaf blowers hurt and are partially to blame. I have to wear noise cancellation head phones inside my home, and even with all windows shut, it’s so loud some days that Benjamin can’t hear his colleagues during video meetings. It makes us feel crazy, but I’m reassured by writers like Bernie Krause, who in his book, Voices of the Wild advocates for preserving our natural sound scapes.
Here’s a synopsis of his book from Yale University Press:
“[Voices of the Wild] explains that the secrets hidden in the natural world’s shrinking sonic environment must be preserved, not only for our scientific understanding, but for our cultural heritage and humanity’s physical and spiritual welfare.
Krause’s narrative—supplemented by exclusive access to field recordings from the wild—draws on a compelling range of personal anecdotes, histories, and examples to document his early exploration of this field and to lay the groundwork for future generations.”
Later that icy day, Benjamin and I heard another sound.
It started over our shoulders, a wispy, fluttery sound. We stopped as an active flock of birds circled, making their way to shrubs of bright red berries. They were light brown with yellow bands on the tips of their tails and black masks across their eyes. They were Cedar Waxwings, and we heard them fly.
wings on the wind
peace of mind
Thank you, Bernie Krause.
Thank you, winter, water, alligators, frogs and birds.