Saturday, April 27, 2013

Listening to Grass & Trees

Someone down the road is cutting his grass, the not unpleasant sound of the lawnmower echoing through a wall of trees that makes man and machine impossible to see. The sound makes me wonder just how soon the same task will fall due with the very large yard I look out upon this afternoon. Do I need to ask friendly Fred to come and give me a driving lesson? Should I bring in a few gallons of gasoline for the mower? It’s all too soon for someone who has not fully moved into the house yet and sees the grass as not especially tall just now. Time enough for all that sometime next month.

A little earlier, from a vantage point in the front yard I sat doing nothing but concentrating on the mix of small sounds that make up what anyone would describe as perfect quiet. There is never outdoors the sort of dead silence that occurs inside behind thick walls and doors, for that is an artificial quiet arranged for a purpose. Each day for the past two weeks I have sat in the backyard of this Oak Hill house and marveled at the quiet, but at the same time hearing a million insects, limbs full of birds, the tap dance of a squirrel on the tin roof and the occasional thunk of small limbs falling from a height. And when for a beat of fleeting seconds there are no birds in the trees, no screaming locusts or buzzing hornets, the pause is filled with the lift of wind shifting leaves, a rustle of green bending and murmuring in the thickness of arching branches.

The drone of a plane far overhead, invisible through the network of branches and a small sound by all accounts sets the woodpecker to knocking and unsettles a basking lizard that suddenly jumps, scurrying across a bed of dried leaves setting loose a crackling rustle at ground level. I try to imagine how long it will be before this complex outdoor symphony comes to me with fuller understanding of all its instruments and players. From over by the picnic table a bird sings, but I know nothing more than ‘bird.’ There is some impatience now with my inexperienced ear, the inability to identify sounds in a way that gives more shape to the surroundings. I think maybe I want too much too soon. In the passing of a month or two these conversations in the grass and treetops will perhaps have a fuller meaning to city ears. 


  1. What you wrote about in your post is what I call "listening to the quiet" and it is so peaceful and relaxing to do that.

  2. Really nice descriptions of the country outdoors. There is a theory that being shut off from nature causes all kinds of problems with the psyche, a soul deadening malaise that comes over us. Easy to believe when listening to the soothing sounds of birds and insects and, yes, even the sound of a distant lawnmower. Next trip to the bookstore get one of the bird guides for your region with color pictures. No need to become Audubon but it will allow you to more fully appreciate what you are seeing around you.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America