Be Quiet


lake moon contrasty (1 of 1)


Somehow, the silence here can be overwhelming. Of course there is never really an absence of sound, like putting on headphones not plugged in while in the hall closet at midnight on Sunday during a snow storm. Little things go chirp, water laps, trucks downshift a mile away, someone mows on the other side of the lake. But I am awed at the faintness, the overlaying and ephemeral nature of sounds as they blend and subside, weaving themselves together like delicate old lace.

The sound of a motor boat, high pitched, like a guttural whine or rapidly flapping cardboard in your bicycle spokes as you ride incredibly fast, indicating an ancient yet still functioning outboard, probably a Johnson, of small power. It starts somewhere, abruptly, common sense tells me it must be moving, assumedly towards me but there seems to be no increase in volume, it’s 5 horse engine propelling what must be a small craft at a walking pace. Plodding, steady as she goes. No hurry. The sound is weirdly out of place and yet heard no where else. The sound stops, perhaps he has found the fishing spot, and the relative quiet returns. But then the boater pulls the fraying starter rope and the engine takes hold, powering the small boat at a trolling pace, the sound receding and fading in accordance with the Doppler effect. The air modulating the whine, as it fades and blends with the water lapping at the rocks, birds talking from the woods, slightly hollow. Still the motor propels itself, leaving its signature floating above the water, slowly fading and overlapping the ambient noises; suddenly it speeds up, and yet the sound is constant in spite of the increase in distance to my ear. Finally I discern a faint modulation in its signature sound but somebody yells across the lake and the background noises become more apparent, a weakly muffled car on the road, chipmunk  steps. Watching the sound of the motor, fading, overruled by a mourning dove, the breeze pushes it sideways and it looses the high frequency for a second. Soon it will be gone for good.

I remember arriving hear a decade ago, just my cocker spaniel Max and me, to open camp ahead of the family. At the point where the paved road becomes dirt, I slowed, anticipating,  the window down and my head out like a happy dog, to hear the distinct sound of tires moving slowly on a camp road, the slight crunch of rubber pushing small rocks and loose dirt. Now a train is coming, distant, although close, perhaps 30 seconds away, bells clanging, slowly, throbbing, the horn, with its distinct pattern of long-long-short-long. Each blow reverberating off the opposite shore, losing some highlights, coming back to mix with the current blow, tumbling, like sheets in a dryer. At night, listening to an approaching train, I picture the engineer, surrounded by tons of steel and iron, a cacophony of humming and throbbing, metal on metal, choosing to blow the whistle in a sensitive way or not. At times the blows creep out into the night, as if he can warn us but still let us sleep through his technique. Other engineers are tired and cranky from work or marriage or any number of pressing items and blow the horn as they were probably taught, in the text book style, no finesse or technique.

I sit on the porch in the evening, the colors of sunset reflected on the opposite shore, listening to one vociferous crow caw, and caw and caw. Incessant. What is he saying? Not just caw caw but two caws followed by a bended caw, then returning to the previous inflection and cadence. Caw caw. Persistent. He overshadows the sound of the truck on the highway. The crowing continues. A bald eagle flies by and the crowing stops.. They were having a disagreement.

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