You’ll Discover the Special Sounds of Winter
Winter begins with a decisive snow. Spinning only a little, the flakes fall fast, big and feathery, and with no more sound than that of a small child’s sigh in sleep. They cover the ground and keep on falling, muting the last rough cacophony of autumn.
The chipmunk sleeps, and so do the bullfrog and the bear. The summer birds have left.
This is the season of musical solos: Listen to the raven as it flies across the salt marsh, croaking twice. A mile or so away, another raven answers, clear as a bell. On the beech trees a few leaves hang, curled and brittle, making a staccato rattle when the wind pours through miles of bare limbs.
Just before dark, a human shout. Or the soft pulsing call of a great horned owl after midnight. Or the sweet chatter of a flock of pine grosbeaks in undulating flight above the trees at dawn. These riffs shatter the winter stillness like the sudden toss of a wineglass. Then the shards are gently swept away: The shout dissolves into laughter, the owl lifts from the branch and flies off, the grosbeak calls grow dim and fade.
We’re back to silence and to listening.
Nothing jolts a person awake like a coyote howl on the night of the full moon. They’re right here, close but unseen, as you stare out your window, searching between the blue shadows of the pine trunks across the immaculate white snow, the moonlight silvering everything. The voices come again: that wild family yipping, the crazy laughter, and the long tenor howls, one after another–waves of sound lapping at the edges of the house.
Is this house made of straw? Of sticks?
Then you remember the three deer scraping at the crust of snow under the apple tree this afternoon, digging out the frozen windfalls. Somewhere, they’re listening, too, their cupped ears pivoting.
Nights like these, in indigenous cultures, were a time of storytelling: a time when the ice pushed against the lake and made loud, booming groans; a time when the incoming tide broke the salt ice into pale-blue, singing crystals you could see through; a time when shadows stood up and moved, dreamlike, and the coyote wore a mask, and the raven brought daylight out of the dark.
We, of this winter country, reach deep into who we are because it is so quiet here, and sometimes we break that silence with our quick and splendid voices.