One of the beauties of the farm is a unique kind of silence. Not absolute silence but a special kind that enables one to hear the sounds of life that are always around us here, in myriad forms.
Silence in New York City, my second home, is something else entirely, consisting of a strange, almost omnipresent background roar formed of the traffic on West Street, Trinity, and Broadway, the air conditioning systems in the surrounding skyscrapers, our elevators on the way up and down, subway trains passing beneath nearby Greenwich Street, my own Mitsubishi air conditioner; revelers in front of the bar across the street, and the coming and going of the hordes of tourists visiting the World Trade Center Memorial.
This urban soundscape is so perpetually present, that somehow it becomes a kind of wallpaper of “silence”. Occasionally the wail of fire engines, and ambulances, and the occasional car horn rise above the white noise that is so much a given of urban life.
Obviously, true silence is a stranger to urban living. Only in the minutes after the collapse of the second tower have I experienced in New York City a real silence, a deathly silence.
The last few evenings, I have been sitting out nights on my screened porch taking in the sounds of the farm as dusk has turned to darkness.
One of the earliest sounds I am hearing these past few days is the sad bleating of the ewes coming from the barn, and the antiphonal response of their lambs, now moved to the front lawn and adjoining pasture for the summer. The lambs have been weaned and were well on the road to independence, but had continued to sleep at night cuddled up to their mothers until the big move to the front lawn. Strangely it is the mothers, once night has fallen, who sound most bereft, and seem to miss the lambs more than the lambs miss them.
If I cough or sneeze or scrape my wicker chair across the floor, the peacock in his peacock palace behind the garage erupts with his piercing, evocative cry. Evocative because it takes me back to playing in the forecourt of Cardiff Castle next to the peacocks that roamed there when I was a child, or to my bedroom in Illinois that was a matter of feet from our neighbor Mrs. Mattson’s twenty-some peacocks who roused me every morning, or to New Orleans, where a peacock, our Beebie, suddenly flew into the garden one day and stayed.
Less romantic are the occasional snarls, grunts, and squeals of the pigs, still in the winter piggery on the other side of the house, as they vie for space, food. and dominance. Most of the sometimes desperate sounding sounds are, I have learned, more histrionic than real. And I have by now learned to distinguish between the two.
The rains and high humidity of the last few days have brought the tree frogs back into mating mode. Their nightly raucous concerts have taken up where the early spring peepers have left off. A few nights back, it was only a few male and female tree frogs trilling back and forth, the males very loudly, the females higher and softer, in an endless antiphony. But the night before last, with the heavy rains, it was, for some reason, all the males in unison blasting out their amorous intentions–so loudly that only occasionally could the softer, higher trill of the females be heard. One night it seems to be a come-hither duet between male and female; the next, a typically male contest with each trying to drown out the other. Come late July or August, the mechanical call of the cicadas and the nonstop whirring of the crickets will take over the sounds of the night.
From the pond on the west side of the house, comes the adolescent croaking of bullfrogs, low and gruff, as they vie for sole control of the pond, and any females it may contain. Soon the adolescent sounds will shift to basso profondo, with a volume that suggests a much larger creature, perhaps an alligator or crocodile. And I will have to keep two fan motors going in the bedroom, if I am to get any sleep.
But not all of the sounds of the night are exotic, idyllic, or soothing. Off beyond the borders of our farm, but not too far away, comes the faint nightly chorus of howling coyotes. An ominous rather than pleasing sound.
It has been a few years now since a pack of coyotes rampaged through the farm in pursuit of some poor creature, creating one of the most disturbing sounds I have ever been awakened by– a sound so chilling, wild, insane, and anarchic that it must completely disorient whatever their prey may be.
Like life itself, the nightly sounds of the farm are a surprising and unpredictable mix of beauty, mystery, strangeness, and menace.