Killdeer on last summer’s dry pond bed
(notice fresh water muscle shell)

 

A friend told the story this week
about an experience
her husband had
when he first turned on his hearing aids.
He asked
when the locusts had come back.
Not hearing them,
he thought they had
disappeared.
What a joyous moment for him.
The day after I heard this story,
I listened to a replaying
of an NPR interview
with the composer John Cage,
whose composition “4’33”
consists of a pianist
sitting silently at a piano
for four minutes and 33 seconds.
He “wrote” it
to help people
listen
to the sounds around them.
Cage was inspired
to do this
following an experience
in a silence chamber,
where he could still hear two sounds.
Scientists told him
the high sound was his nervous system
and the low sound was his blood flowing.
Also this week
I found an article
in my email
about musician and naturalist
Bernie Krause,
who for the last forty years
has recorded “over 15,000 species,
collecting 4,500 hours of sound
from many of the world’s pristine habitats.”

But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places.

‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening,’ he writes in a new book, The Great Animal Orchestra. ‘Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.

This sort of thing—
a series of back-to-back, related events—
gets my attention.
And so this morning,
when I stepped outside,
I listened.
The first thing I heard
was a gift indeed:
the piercing, plaintive cry of a Killdeer—
remarkably,
flying overhead
at just that moment.
Then I tuned in
to the squeaky chatter
of the Guinea Fowl;
and then,
their raucous chatter.
The Cicadas’ sizzle.
Bird chirps.
Alpaca snorts.
Woodpecker pecking.
A breeze
in the leaves of the Hackberry tree.
An airplane flying overhead,
then another.

The fragile weave of natural sound is being torn apart by our seemingly boundless need to conquer the environment rather than to find a way to abide in consonance with it.

Sometimes,
when the air pressure
and wind direction
are a “perfect storm,”
I hear the traffic
on the Interstate Highway
a mile and a half
to the west.
Its unceasing roar
is deeply disturbing.
That sound instantly elicits in me
the sense of desolation
Krause writes about,
and I am helpless
to do anything about it—
except,
take note.

John O’Donohue,
in Anam Cara,
wrote:
“Long before
humans arrived on earth,
there was an ancient music here.”
I hear that ancient music
in the plaintive cry
of the Killdeer.
It resonates
deeply in my heart—
not as comfort,
but as longing.
Its feels like a call
to an ancient home.
But maybe,
I have not really heard;
maybe it is a wake-up call
to tend to home
here.