Painting with Sound

Sometimes as I sit in the early morning, I close my eyes and cast my mind outwards, following the chirps of the crickets, the chitterings of the cardinals, the cries of the hawks. Guided only by sound, I explore the natural world around me. The tones, volumes, directions, and repetitive patterns of the sounds paint a picture in my mind just as if I were watching a portrait painter at work. Pulsing cricket chirpings form the broad canvass on which other sounds are layered. The distant circling cry of the hawk draws swirling, ribbony brushstrokes of sound.  The red-bellied woodpecker and the blue jays are bright splashes of paint, dabbed here and there, surprising and attention-grabbing. The loud buzz of a hummingbird approaches and recedes quickly–a bold stroke on the canvass–while the semi-regular wheeze of a scolding squirrel fills in a corner of the tableau with short, choppy strokes of the brush. In a final flourish, the chickadees stipple their calls and chatter across the scene, adding interest and that finishing touch. At that point, I can’t resist; I need to see what’s going on.

Opening my eyes somehow diminishes the power of the sounds at first. Like turning on a bright light in a pitch dark room, the sudden visual brightening momentarily dims the other senses. All the sounds are still there, but now they fight with the visual realm for my attention.Then, after a time, things even out and reach a sort of balance. I think with practice, the quiet and patient observer can take in the sounds, sights, smells, touches, and even tastes of nature without any one sense submitting to or overpowering the others. Each sense will complement and enhance the others, resulting in a powerful and restorative experience. Nature immersion.

Early Fall Morning

Nothing sounds the alarm like a bluejay. There is something going on deep in the woods this morning. I know this because the bluejays have been alerting the area and spreading the word for the last 20 minutes. We may never know the exact situation… perhaps one of the outdoor cats is on patrol, possibly a red-tailed hawk is circling, or it could be a human intruder. Now, the cardinals join in, adding their low-pitched “chip” to the piercing crow-like “caw” of the jays. Then, the red-bellied woodpecker and the chickadees add their two-cents worth, and there are a few more calls that I can’t quite identify. For a while, this wild discordant “noise” dominates the area, impossible to ignore. My grey tabby, Rose, listens and stares intently at the backyard from her window seat. Neither of us can see what’s going on, though Rose gives the impression that she knows.  Then quickly, the noise fades. Suddenly, it’s quiet. The threat has passed; the area is secure once again and everyone can get back to the business of the day.

These relatively brief yet intense episodes happen frequently. They remind me of how much is going on in nature “behind-the-scenes.” Often, on a cool, still morning such as this, I think about all the dramatic scenes that are being played out inside and outside of my own backyard. It boggles the mind. Even now, in the the distance I can hear a hawk screaming and another jay scolding. A small grey squirrel scampers along the back fence. What’s his mission? Hummingbirds fight over the nectar feeder, zooming back and forth with incredible speed and then alighting on a branch to glare at each other. A faded-red cardinal works to feed his two hungry chicks in a nearby bush. The babies flutter their wings with great energy and cheep constantly… great hunger or simply the typical behavior of a growing young cardinal? How much of what we see and hear is interpreted by humans to be dramatic and how much is just day-to-day living in nature’s realm? And maybe, there is no difference….