Last Thursday’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.
Click here for a thought-provoking TED talk by Bernie Krause on ‘The Voice of the Natural World’ that inspires me to keep listening.