It’s not often that we focus on the sounds in the garden. As a writer, I am generally busy describing visuals about plants, with perhaps a mention of fragrance or odor. Sight, smell, but what about sound? Life recently offered me a lesson about the magic of sound in a garden that I do not believe I will ever forget.
Sounds of the City
During the 18 first months of the pandemic, I didn’t leave California. Travel was scary and, in many cases, forbidden. I invested time in my garden, delighting in the colors of new leaves and flowers, the taste of homegrown vegetables and fruits. At night could hear the song of the Pacific Ocean, but during the day it was blotted out by the sounds of the city.
Even at night, even in my quiet neighborhood, you could hear the sound of cars doing “donuts” in the intersections. And our part of the City was also haunted by the unwelcome and eerie howl of the Golden Gate Bridge, an unpleasant noise caused by the wind passing at a specific angle through the recently installed new west sidewalk Bridge railing. Yes, the city is working on a fix, but it was present most nights for the last six months.
Sounds of the Country
I was finally able to return to my little house in the French Pyrenees early this summer as pandemic traveling restrictions were lifted. It had been closed for 18 months, so the return was a moment of mixed emotions, enormous joy and towering apprehension. Both turned out to be totally justified. The house suffered from being closed up for so long, and we knew that hours of work lay ahead.
When I woke up the next morning, I started to make a list of the tasks that lay ahead. It was very early dawn and I decided to walk out into the garden to a spot where I could look across the valley to see the sunrise. The silence was stunning, no noise, no cars, no people. I could hear the river down in the valley and then, suddenly, from all sides, the birds started calling. In that moment, I was surrounded by birdsong and the beauty and power of the moment moved me to tears.
Sounds of the Garden
I will always remember those months on the mountain as a time where sound moved to the top of the list of pleasures. Birdsong was one part. Though the great symphony stopped after sunrise, baby birds still called to their parents for food and the woodpeckers tapped the oaks much of the day.
Then there was the song of the trees. All of my trees seemed to have doubled in size during the months I was gone and the lush foliage made glorious music in the evening breeze. Cutting weeds, I would sometimes hear the rustle of small animals and snakes hurrying away and bats zipped by, hunting for bugs in the twilight. The croak of frogs, the whir of dragonflies, the whinny of the wild horses on the mountain.
How could I have forgotten all these sounds of the garden, the music of nature that we lose in a big city? But I had, and rediscovering them was the greatest joy of the summer.