Sounds the Winter Winds Produce
In my attempts to strain inspiration from the spruce boughs for this month’s nature article, I grabbed fistfuls of songs and poems and ended up all over the map – like those fierce winds that have been blowing, I felt like I was the clothes I forgot to bring in off the clothesline.
Then I heard an acapella rendition of “It’s all about the bass (no tenor)” which made me think of the song “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” by New England folk singer Bill Staines, which we naturalists changed to “all Earth’s critters”, so we wouldn’t get ourselves into trouble singing about anyone’s particular god. Anyway, that’s how I plucked inspiration from the fierce winds that have been rattling my house and my nerves to come up with the following piece about Nature’s songs practically forced into existence from the winter winds and other sounds you might hear in winter.
“Because you know it’s all about the bass…”
As American folk singer Bill Staines sang, “Listen to the bass, it’s the one on the bottom…” It’s the moaning and groaning of your house as the winter winds whip around it. It’s the sound of the large plow truck on the dirt road. When the wind is racing at 50 mph – gale force winds on the Beaufort Scale – the trees are possessed with sound. Collectively they can sound like a rushing river over the trees. Or the roaring of an ocean storm. Some people say it sounds like an oncoming train. You can feel the wind approaching like a wave and then it’s all around you and you find yourself in a symphony of sounds that your house makes as it tries desperately to hold itself together.
Cue the Tenor
Bill Staines sings the “dogs and the cats, they take up the middle” with their barking, growling, mewing, and purring. If you walk outside, what will the winds share with you? What will a gentle breeze carry to your awaiting ears? The clacking of the sticks and crows and coyotes cawing to one another. One may also hear the barred owls, particularly during their winter courtship when they are hooting and hollering and making a merry ruckus. Listen to the pine needles during a fresh breeze of 19-24 mph with their low whistling, as if Pan were playing a more haunting melody in the trees instead of in the wetland reeds.
During these windstorms, my house doesn’t just moan, it also creaks and rattles. Like the jaybird, it disagrees with all the commotion the wind is making.
If you live amongst the eastern hemlocks, chances are at some point you’ve heard (as Bill Staines sings) “the porcupine talks to himself” – they really do. Porcupines make odd sounds that somehow magically form human English sentences. Such odd questions in the middle of the night, such as, “Where did I put my socks?” Or troubled remarks, “No, I don’t want to.” Or, “It’s too cold for that.” The wind, when it’s gentler, more of a light breeze on the Beaufort Scale, can carry these odd conversations in through the windowpane.
Soprano: Ending on a high note
Bill Staines sings, “Listen to the top where the little birds sing.” Well, not all little birds have a high-pitched song. One songbird who does, is the cedar waxwing. They have a very high-pitched “seed seed” call. They fly around in large flocks, and you’ll notice them before oncoming storms scarfing up as much berries as they can.
And then there is that eerie shrieking the wind causes my house to make. Has anyone kept track of how many wind events we’ve had over the last two years? I feel like we have had a fierce wind event almost every week since 2019. As well as Al built this house back in 1981, its years are showing with all these gale-force wind events. The wind has found its way in through cracks in the window frames. The cold air forces its way in, singing like a tribe of tiny banshees ecstatic to meet with the woodstove-heated air.
So hopefully you are enjoying the outside out and not the outside in your home – unless of course you are purposefully bringing it in – like pretty rocks or boughs of spruce or white pine needles for vitamin C tea or snow for an icy-maple treat.
May you and your home stay strong the winter through.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
This article appeared in the January 2022 edition of The Ashfield News.
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