Yesterday’s mission was to walk to my nearest tributary junction, and join World Listening Day by paying attention to sounds. I had an equidistant choice of going upriver and downriver. I walked upstream late morning, and downstream in the early evening.
Going along the riverside road became part of the listening. There were signs of heat – grasshoppers, flies buzzing, swallows chattering.
Cattle are noisy eaters I learn – a bullock catches my ears, grazing and wading in the burn (appreciating the coolness I assume).
My attention brings quiet, as the herd pauses to look at me.
Through the gate to the next holding, I am wished Good Listening by the neighbour who farms there. She tells me of a band of thirsty scouts, concerned for them in this heat as they walk down this reiver’s valley to the Borders Abbey Way.
I meet the Scouts and we look at the map of their walk. I suggest which houses they can get water from. A mix of adolescent voices drift away: tired, broken and half-broken tones.
Now close to the burn, a skin-slap against a horsefly, the dog slumping in the river. I stop in tree-shade and listen to water flowing: noticing that a fish-ripple is soundless but that a crow caw has two-beats. I learn that few of the things I look at yield sound, and I see little of what I hear.
The particular chink of a gate; the stridulation of a cricket; a ewe moving through a wire fence (metallic string tone), cool wind in my ears – all can be heard.
The open thistle, bone dry grass, distant forming clouds – all quiet.
At the farm-bridge at the river intersection, I remember falling off, into the river, last summer. With children’s laughs ringing alongside my shock as the plank broke.
I realise my intersection map should have been of sounds not sight, but the allocated hour is up.
The evening mission starts with a swim in the loch and from there to the road-bridge, where the burn meets the river. The moon is visible – is it always silent?
Shoes giving a rubbery flap on dry grass. There is a nettle wall between the road and my chosen point. I manage through to see, on the opposite bank, a woman watering her garden in a bikini. She might take my watchful presence amiss. My mistake: to consider visual rather than aural access. Hidden in bracken, I start to listen and things rapidly become more abstract.
I find I can’t listen well with my eyes open
I draw birdsong from above, mistakenly using pink (not exactly a flutey hue)
Drawing sounds becomes a movement. I compromise with half-closed eyes, but the midges have found me.
This post is part of the project Working the Tweed (Year of Natural Scotland 2013).
Click here for a thought-provoking TED talk by Bernie Krause on ‘The Voice of the Natural World’ that motivates me to keep listening.
One thought on “listening upriver, downriver”
Beautiful, evocative post this. Remember seeing an interview with musician Bjork, where she talked about cities being built with the visual in mind, not the auditory – humans prioritise sight.
The way in which we take in and process information is conative – sp.? style – wonder what your conative styles are.
Lovely drawing of the scouts they look so . . . weary. And the bullock in the burn. I love to see the cattle knee deep in the sea on a hot summer’s day, gazing peacefully at the horizon.