In every issue of Orion Magazine, a literary journal that explores the connection between nature, culture and place, a writer pens a declaration in list form. It could be about anything. One was entitled 7 Survival Tips for the Hardy Extraterrestrial and another, 10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature. It’s called an enumeration. Here is my enumeration — The Memory of Sound.
1) A Maine wave crashing on a Maine beach. One after another — a suspense story told again and again as sand is whittled to silk.
2) The song of a mourning dove. Slow. Easy. Never in a rush.
3) A mountain lion heard caterwauling in the middle of the night while camping in the Sierras. My eyes open wide as I clutch my sleeping bag closer, but it’s down lining is useless against the chilling shriek. I thought a woman had been murdered.
4) Rain on my tent fly and there are no leaks.
5) A late night conversation with friends on an Alabama stoop interrupted by the shout of a barred owl. He called from the limb of southern red oak and stared down at us with unblinking black eyes. No one spoke after that. How do you follow a conversation with an owl?
6) The hooves of two mule deer walking past my tent on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. One trips the guy-line and I scream in the night. This is grizzly country after all and my imagination is wild with fear. My camp mates in a nearby tent are amused.
7) A dog barking in my neighbor’s backyard. In loneliness he called for a friend in the night. No one came in all his life.
8) A crackling campfire in Hammonasset Beach State Park. The glow lights my great grandmother’s face which is wide with surprise as we tell her to sit still — there is a skunk under her chair.
9) The sounds that filled the nights of my childhood — spring peepers and cicadas. The little store down the street. The one whose bell rang whenever the door swung open. The memory is entwined with the scent of lilacs. Oh and the fireflies. How could anyone sleep when there are fireflies dancing outside?
10) The sound of nothing on a winter evening. All life conserving heat in burrows beneath the snow, in cavities hollowed out from rotten trees, and underneath stubby junipers — surviving somehow.