May 12, 2016: Sight as Fugitive as Sound
Climbed again around 9:00, in late twilight. Looking up as I climb, the tree is full of countless starburst shapes silhouetted against the sky. Millions of them, it seems, sprouting from the tip of every twig, though it must be only thousands.
I climb to hear the woodcock beep and fly and twitter and fall in the dark air, to see if I can spot its aerial mating dance against the faintly luminous clouds. I can hear it down in the meadow, among the apple trees; and another, behind me, further away and fainter. I listen for a while and there is a kind of counterpoint between them, one flying while the other calls, one rising while the other falls. The peepers are even louder, coming from two directions, from the small pond across the road and the larger pond up on our neighbor’s land.
The air is full of sound, coming from multiple directions, as many separate voices are there are miniature leaf-clusters dotting the three-dimensional space of the tree. The way they sound in their multitude, these voices, feels something like the way these leaf-clusters fill the space. But the way we think of a multitude is so much more closely derived from our sense of sight: there they all are, arrayed in space by the thousands. But those sounds, in their many hundreds, where are they? How close together are they? Are they evenly or irregularly spaced? Well, but “spaced” is exactly the wrong term. Better to ask how close they are together in time, whether they are evenly or irregularly spaced in time. But this fails to capture the sense of a multitude, of masses of concurrent sound, of all those voices densely packing the air.As I listen, and think these things, my eyes not quite closed, the woodcock, air singing through its feathers, comes arcing across the meadow and over the lawn and shoots past me, brushing the edges of the treetop, just fifteen feet away. Its shape is dark, barely visible, and moving fast, but I see it dart among the shadows, and then it’s gone.
These are things one is much more likely to think about in the dark. In daylight the eyes rove and sounds emerge with a lesser vigor from the land. In the dark they move to the fore, these sounds; they are the landscape. One can get lost in them the way one can get lost in the woods.
Sight as fugitive as sound in this dark world.