It’s mid- September already but recently it has felt like summer or something very like it. I seem to have been waiting for days like these for weeks. At last I can do some sitting outside in the sunshine.
When I am seeking peace I’ve taken to just sitting in my garden and closing my eyes, just listening. The fancy word for what I do would be meditation. So many things we do could be classed as meditation: walking, ironing, washing-up, playing a musical instrument, playing sport, all these activities are those where we can lose both ourselves and all sense of time, a desirable achievement sometimes in this day and age.
But I digress, I have been set a task by a Purplecooer. Homework we call it. I’m meant to be writing about five of those sounds and also those scents that lift me out of myself, so here goes.
With closed eyes you can really hear, you understand how the totally blind can use their ears far more acutely than we sighted people. It would be a good experiment to spend 24 hours wearing a blindfold so we could really, really listen to the world around us wouldn’t it?
I’m going to start my list with birdsong. Probably not very original but with respect to this subject I don’t think original comes into it much. I feel we shall all probably choose similar examples.
I notice that every morning when I take out the food out for the birds they strike up a song, more than a song it seems more of a ‘call to eat‘, they seem to be saying ’Here she comes, she’s bringing our brekky!’.
But earlier than that when I first awaken, that is the time when our feathered friends do seem to be united in their dawn chorus which is always a treat, one of life’s blessings that I couldn’t imagine living without. Then they do seem to be singing just for the joy of it. But when I sit, just to listen, although I can pick out different birds, sadly I can’t recognise and name each one individually. It is one of those things I’d like to learn more about.
Some scientists have been trying to prove that birds don’t sing just for the joy of it. My own observations however are to the contrary, for when I play my music and the sounds drift out of the open doors or windows, the birds start to sing along, quite furiously sometimes depending on the tune! I can almost feel their enjoyment of my music.
(As I write this the buzzard family are mewing overhead as they circle round the field together looking for prey).
Sadly we do not have any curlews in this valley, we had them when we had the smallholding a few miles from here. Their cry is heartrendingly sad I always think but I do miss them and the species is becoming rare which is such a shame.
Talking of sadness and of birdsong, M visited the German concentration camp, Belsen , shortly after the end of the war. In that place are 87,000 people buried in mass graves and he described it as eerily silent, completely devoid of birds and their song. And it still is.
Enough of birds (though I will never get enough of these creatures, our angelic messengers).
More sounds that move my spirit?
Let’s start with the first, the cry of the newborn. I love all babies but new babies are so very special, still touched with the essence of Spirit.
From babies’ cries I move on to the human voice or to be exact, some human voices. Musical voices. I can’t pick out or mention them all as there are so many that I love, so many shades, so many levels of sound, some akin to chocolate, some to white wine, some so indescribably powerful that they can move a soul to tears. Think of Pavarotti for example, God rest him. Some men’s speaking voices too I love, why is that I wonder? Why do (some) men’s voices have such an effect on (some) women? I loved Richard Burton’s voice, I love Anthony Hopkin’s as well. I love accents, the Irish one of course and also the French, that one is so ‘romantic‘. Feargal Keane has a voice I could listen to all day.
Of course (it goes without saying really) I love musical instruments and my favourites are the Irish Aeolian pipes, the guitar and the wooden flute. Those Irish pipes particularly have an ability to touch my soul somewhere deep inside.
I move on now to Water and I’ll start with the sound of the sea. The roar of the waves as they roll in to the shore, over and over, over and over and then become quieter and softer, more and more gentle as they reach their innermost shoreline. It is mesmerising both to watch and to listen to this. I would so love to live by the sea, I think it must be healing to walk by the coastline each and every day, if only to make oneself feel small and inconsequential in the scheme of the Universe. Perhaps it would help to minimise those everyday little worries that loom so large.
It is not quite the same scale but I am blessed to live by a little mountain river and to know its every sound, from its mere trickle over the stones to its powerful and frightening roar when in flood. We bought the cottage partly because of the river and the location. To sit by the water and to listen to its song is soothing; hypnotic even; after all it is said that the negative ions near such places can cure headaches, allergy symptoms and the like. Many’s the time I have taken a garden chair and sat on the river stones, right at the water’s edge. It is truly healing, I can vouch for that.
Carrying on the watery theme I would have to mention my dear love that is rain. Perhaps it is my Irish blood but I love everything about it. I love soft drizzly rain that caresses my face and feeds my complexion and I adore torrential rain that beats against the windows and makes heavy drumming noises on my roof. I love to feel snug and safe indoors when such stormy weather comes and I remember being on holiday as a child in a caravan in Kent and hearing the rain pattering on the roof.
I love all elemental sounds. The power of the wind can be inspiring to hear though I must admit to being more fearful of strong winds since I experienced the hurricane in 1987 when we lived in West Sussex. That was scary indeed.
And fire? Nothing beats a real fire in a home does it? Only in a hearth of course! A coal or a log fire that starts off spitting and crackling, then settles down to a quiet and steady burn. Then I cease to listen and start staring into the flames, losing myself as I read the stories that they seem to try to tell. It’s that meditation thing again.
(I have just noticed that I have chosen ‘my’ two elements. I am a Fire Sign (Aries) and my Moon, my ‘emotional’ planet, is in Scorpio which is a Water Sign. There is definitely something in this astrology lark.
Getting away from the elements, I love ticking clocks. We have an antique clock in the ‘snug’ that ticks and chimes. I just love it. It soothes and makes me feel safe and secure. Is it a back-to-the-womb thing or is that just a crazy idea? When S, my middle granddaughter was a baby she used to rock in time to this clock, even then she had an ear for music but then we are all musical in our family. When my son S was in the womb he used to kick like mad when rock music was being played. I knew early on that he was a boy by the strength of his kicks (compared to my daughter who also reacted to music) and I predicted he would be into music. Right on both counts. Funny isn’t it that sounds affect us even before we draw our first breath, before we deliver our first cry and emit our own sounds that will touch the heart of our mother and will (hopefully) guarantee our own survival. Sound is so important eh? At that point I will have to leave you…………………
But before I go, instead of a poem I will add the lyrics of one of my favourite songs by Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel) that is one of my Desert Island Discs. Of course it is a poem, Paul Simon is a poetical genius.
The Sound of Silence
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of
A neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
Fools said if you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you.
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the signs said, the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whispered in the sounds of silence.
For even more than sound I am particularly drawn to no-sound, the sound that we call silence. This experience I believe to be the most healing of them all and is a subject all its own.
My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)
Silence is more musical than any song.
Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)
Bye for now,
Fare thee well,
My next blog, coming soon, will be Part 2 of my Homework and will be all about evocative scents.