Sounds 

In late January, Chris and I returned to the northeast to celebrate a wedding. The bride, always a fan of winter wonderland nuptials, managed to choose the one January weekend when the temperatures were bearable (just) and no blizzard lashed in. In fact, sunbeams danced over the light snow-covering, providing a magical backdrop for the bridal pictures.  As we had some time before the ceremony, Chris and I decided to walk around Walden Pond, and it is that walk that inspired this post.

Most Americans know that Walden Pond was made famous by writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. He spent two years living  in a cabin on its banks (though rumor suggests he sought the comforts of town to finish his laundry), he became entranced by nature and wrote, “Walden; or Life in the Woods”.

Even though the sun was doing its fairy dust dance act, the temperatures were below freezing especially on the shaded rim of the lake.  Not many ventured out and it was quite still. Yet there were sounds, of which I’ll speak later, and they prompted me to listen out for and contemplate the noises around me.

Until I did this, I’d have told you that we live very quietly in northeast Florida.  Not so!  I’d simply stopped registering the rumble of traffic, the logging trucks’ relentless roll, outbursts from car stereos as they flash past, emergency sirens, the daily drone and crunching of waste disposal trucks, construction and landscaping racket, the sporadic thunderous roar of the paper mill in the distance, and the occasional persistent progress of military planes, and the pulsating, threatening thrum of helicopters over the ocean.

And indoors, how many appliances announce their presence with chirruping synthesized alarms, replacing the reassuring mechanical clicks and clunks of former manufacture. As many of you do, I also have a voice activated device, a particular pleasure for those of us with low vision.  “Alexa, how many grams in eight ounces?”  Our conversations don’t run deep and are rarely nuanced, especially on her side, but her pre-programmed responses allow for a little flexibility and the odd, flat, joke.

I noticed the sounds of the natural world; perhaps there are more dogs and cats in this town than there are people!  And we are certainly outnumbered by birds!  When we lived in the north, there was avian “radio-silence” over the winter months, especially after the honking Canadian geese had slipped into their V formations and glided out of town. Here, we never really lose the birds, especially the seabirds, but as the temperatures begin to rise, they hold vigorous colloquiums and pass resolutions to scold our cat ever more vociferously. As the days warm the parliament of fowls is joined by chattering choruses of insects and the peep of tree frogs.

 Some “natural” sounds were more alarming as I became aware of the churning, squelching, snoring factory inside me!  Why is it that your digestion gurgles at high decibel level only during silent prayer, or the urge to sniff, scratch, belch, hiccup, cough, and sneeze is urgent and irresistible in the hush and shush of a library?  Of course, there are wonderful human sounds, applause, and a child’s giggle,  a carefree whistle, or the whisper of a kiss. Many people, knowing that Chris is a musician, expect that he serenades me. Rarely the case. He “hum-moans in the shower to warm up his voice, then sings random snatches of song, because he can’t remember the words. It’s as if an analogue someone is constantly adjusting the dial on a radio.

Currently, it’s hard to block out the road drill outside, but some sounds are very reassuring. It’s good to know that the toilet flushed, the door locked, the kettle boiled and the thermostat turned on. I am lucky enough to own a grandfather clock. As long as I play my part and remember to wind it, Its definite “tick” measures out my days, and its hourly chime reassures me when I’m in bed that there’s no need to get up yet.  Our clock repairer told me that the grandfather clock is “the heartbeat of the house”.  Ours certainly helped to transform our new house into our new home.

And then there are the less welcome sounds, I’ll just share one. We waited months to go to a highly recommended restaurant. Finally, we had an occasion worthy of the establishment. The food was exquisite, waiters chinked glasses, there was the fervor of the kitchen behind us, the background music innocuous and there was a gentle murmur of conversation around us. Just after our candle sputtered, a man rushed to the bathroom, but before he arrived, there was the dreadful splat of vomit as his stomach emitted its contents, resoundingly – five times!

It’s ironic that gross recollection was prompted by a walk around Walden Pond.  And yet it’s so because it was the strange sounds of that still place that arrested and captivated me.

 

Winter at Walden

We had a sharp, clear view that bright chill Saturday, as if it were diamond cut.  A clean blue sky was received by the icy surface of the lake, absorbed and reflected back again. Seemingly, black gloved fingers of trees stretched across the pond in an attempt to shake hands with those from the opposite shore.  As we walked along the beach and then the path on the sunny side, our footsteps’ crunch rang in our ears. The silent beauty was palpable and we walked in awe.  As we rounded the curve of the pond we stepped out of sunlight and into a deeper dell.  We picked our way along the icy path, conscious that no creatures scurried at the sound of our advance. Our breath came stronger now, it’s rhythmic blow an invasion in the profound stillness of the place.

 And then we heard it.

An otherworldly boom echoed around the basin of the bay. The sound came again like a ghostly gong. And again, as if it rose from deep below the depths. Slowly and carefully we picked our way along the icy path. The lake’s orchestra was tuning up, the ice-sheet’s reverberating boom vibrated at a steady “C” (as Chris told me), while it was joined by minor chords and discords of creaks and plaintive sighs and moans.  A percussion section joined these major players, trickles and splashes, plinks and trinklings playing a counterpoint to the eerie melody.  As we walked, the pond played us this stunning, aching song .

The only way to honor it was with our silent ovation.

Walden Pond

Walden Pond

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