Long after midnight, I’m still on the deck, sitting in a semi-circle of light that doesn’t reach much beyond the few trees closest to the house. The two dogs trot up out of the darkness from time to time and demand to be petted. I am a visitor here, so they give and expect special treatment. They thump their hard tails on the deck’s wooden boards as they sit and hold their faces up to me. Then they are off again.
Today I heard sirens for the first time, probably an ambulance on the highway a couple of miles away. During the day, there may be the undefined rumbling of trucks from the same direction or the whining of a riding lawnmower, its rider a distant neighbor I’ve never met. I’ve heard small planes buzz overhead on occasion. Despite the steady breeze, the metal wind chimes outside the workshop usually remain quiet. When their long, tarnished tubes do clink against each other, they remind me of slow village church bells marking time. Other than that, this place is a rare spot of sounds made only in and by nature. Rushing river water and the tissue-paper rustling of leaves in the wind are always present, like background colors, a tonality for the details.
Wind and water change, depending on the season of my visits. It’s late May, the first hot and sunny days after weeks of thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, and floods. At one point, the river rose forty feet, and it is still much higher than I remember seeing it this time of year. The floods changed the river banks. Trees came loose and fell into the water. Some rest near their old spot, others were carried away. The water swatted new lines and crevices into the banks, dragged off mud and gravel, and deposited sand in curved slopes. The sound of the rushing water seems to have changed: It is busy, hurtling, louder than usual. The wind has shifted to its summer pace and softness. The leaves are big and turning summer-dark. They resist the breeze and there’s a swoosh, a swelling, sometimes even a majesty to the wind.
Frogs are everywhere tonight. I heard coyotes at dusk and cows that sounded nervous. The blue heron I’ve admired for a long time but hardly get to see honked from across the river and reminded me of the incongruity of its physical gracefulness and its ridiculous voice. Red and black wasps sent droning reminders that their tribes have been here since long before the house was built. Woodpeckers provided syncopation. In the darkness, mosquitoes screech close by. Acorns thud from the tall oaks surrounding the house onto the metal roof. Zeppelin-round bugs keep crashing against the big windows, attracted by the kitchen lights. When I go inside and switch on the small bedside lamp, they turn towards the new glow and hit their little heads just as stubbornly against the bedroom windows. And even after the house is dark, they will not give up. They insist on bearing entomic witness to poet Sy Hoahwah‘s line about ghosts, that “either way, there is always the tapping on glass.”
The following morning begins with what crowds into my sleep as gun shots. Once I’m awake, I realize it’s a female cardinal flying into a window over and over. She is compelled to do this for a different reason than the bugs: The early morning glass is opaque enough to create a mirror image of the trees around the house. The bird will not be denied. I finally move a big house plant in front of the spot to break the illusion. Later, there is the blue heron’s great flapping and honking. It swoops down twice, from different directions, and is gone before I can figure out its exact location. Then, the sounds of heavy machinery: a lawnmower over the ridge and the drawn-out growl of a motorcycle along the southern horizon. It is 9:30. People in canoes and kayaks start floating by, their voices drifting around the bend long before they come into view. Two drunks set up camp on a sand bar across the river; the incomprehensible noises made by their heavy tongues add comedy to my seclusion, but I’m glad when they stumble back into their boats and disappear downriver.