Mapping the farm with my ears
(Steph Larsen photos)Ever since taking a cartography class in graduate school, I’ve had a penchant for maps. Full of information, they elegantly highlight places and ideas that we may have missed otherwise. As a visual person, I can appreciate the splashes of color and clean designs.
But not all maps are visual. We can create sound maps by closing our eyes, listening to the sounds we hear, and mapping them in relation to ourselves. Doing so can be another way to experience our environment and draw out sounds we may not have noticed.
The sounds I hear in the country are different than the ones I hear in town, and a world away from those I heard while living in Washington, D.C. The things I heard recently when I took the time to close my eyes and listen tell a story about life on the farm.
5 a.m., still in bed: A clap of thunder, breeze whizzing through the window screen, light rain getting heavier by the minute. Screeching window frames as we groggily shut the windows. Two thuds of the mattress.
8:30 a.m., on the front porch: So many different kinds of bird songs! Swallows, sparrows, robins, meadowlarks, orioles tweeting as they fly, twittering from a branch, a melody from the peak of the roof. Soft flaps of wings. Chickens squawking, a young rooster learning to crow. Woodpecker in the grove. Cardinal singing (one of the few calls I know), mourning dove cooing.
8:43 a.m., feeding the chickens in their coop: Chickens softly clucking, more excitedly now. Door creaking open, scurrying sounds as the hens jostle to be the first outside.
9:40 a.m., in the kitchen: Cottonwood leaves, which have such a distinctive papery rattle, rustle in the slightest breeze. Are those crickets, confused by the dark clouds into thinking it’s evening? Thunder, long and low but distant. The faint whistle of a train crossing Main Street in town, 5 miles away.
10:23 a.m., front porch: Birds even more active now, chirping in staccatos from all directions as they flit between trees. The wooden doors stick loudly as they open, the dense humidity makes them not fit properly. Faraway buzz of a jet plane above the clouds.
11:56 a.m., near the barn: Sheep bleating excitedly; something is bothering them. I interrupt my sound map notations to check it out. I approach one of the paddocks, say hello to the baby lamb; he greets me back with his high, unique meeeehhh.
12:12 p.m., in the grove: Who needs a waterfall when I have animals running through wet violets? The sound is remarkably similar, like those novelty “rain sticks” made of dried cacti I remember as a teenager.
2:01 p.m., front porch: The birdsong is quieting down as the wind picks up. The windmill in front of the house squeaks loudly, reminding me that it needs grease one of these days. A truck rumbles by on the gravel road.
2:54 p.m., barn: Snap…snap…snap…the electric fencer telling me it is on — a louder version of a static shock heard in carpeted homes in winter.
3:25 p.m., garden: An ax thuds as it’s driven into a log, followed by the rapid whacks of metal hitting metal as we split wood. NPR blasts out of the truck stereo, but volume doesn’t matter when you’re a quarter-mile from the nearest neighbor.
4:03 p.m., pasture: The lawnmower roars in my ears as I top off the pasture the sheep were just in.
5:23 p.m., garden: Mosquitoes buzz annoyingly around my head, ears ringing from an hour on the mower. Soon I’ll hear the unique collection of sounds as I wrestle with weeds: leaves tearing, soil giving way; the patter of dirt clods hitting the foliage that’s left, swishes of leaves against leaves as I throw them out of the garden.
7 p.m., paddock: A cacophony of swishes, thuds, and bleats as the sheep scamper away. The splash of water pouring into their buckets, loose salt sliding and scraping into their pan.
8:23 p.m., chicken coop: The small, low door falls shut with a resounding thwack as the chickens are shut in for the night. Rustling feathers, a few clucks and flaps. 1. 2. 3. 15. 26 … everyone is accounted for. The hinges squeak as the door swings shut, latch falls with a tap. Several barn swallows swoop around, chirping fast to each other.
9:34 p.m., kitchen: Rain clatters outside, a huge thunderclap above my head that makes me jump. The panting of the dog, who’s flopped down at my feet. Steady, rhythmic knocking of the windmill outside.
11 p.m., living room: A strong, cool breeze shakes the bush near the window, tapping the glass. Distant low thunder.
Another day on the farm.
What does your world sound like?