By Claudia Costa-Jacobson”It always snows on your birthday,” my husband said as he opened the curtains in our living room on the first Saturday in April. “Did I tell you I heard peepers?” He knew telling me about the little guys would make me a lot happier than confirming what my eyes saw.
Those tiny frogs singing their love songs fill me with profound joy every year. Surely, the ancient promise of spring reverberates through those insistent voices. Peepers define beginning. Those miniscule bodies survive Delaware County winter to climb trees, hang on and hang out with the other males. By doing so they ensure the survival of their species. I love hearing their voices during a drive on cool evenings in early spring.
Wilma Mazo wished me Happy Birthday, and with her beautiful animated eyes and rich voice spontaneously said ” I heard peepers!” We both agreed ‘peepers’ are our favorite sounds. Peepers are so closely associated with their music it isn’t necessary to say anything more than their names. Wilma, I and probably everybody with any connection to nature, can ‘hear’ their distinct chorus in their name.
As a school age child I started listening to nature, occasionally for practical reasons. During the summer the radio was never on so the days’ weather unfolded without prediction. I learned to pay attention to what I could see and hear, like wind direction or intensity which might change before it rained. If I wasn’t listening I could get very wet and cold biking or hiking a long distance from home. And there were times when I did get wet.
What I loved about the woods, even as a child, was the stillness. It’s so quiet any bird calls were distinct. Within the stillness, usually in a patch of sun, the combined buzz of bees and other winged insects were the musicians of mellow orchestras. Sometimes, it seemed as if the entire floor hummed, and I hesitated to walk sure I’d step on ‘someone’. There were hidden places on our mountain where all I saw were ferns as tall as my knees.
I wish I could visit again. Alone, without adult interpretation, I knew the rich earthy smell, the insect buzz and the quiet did something profound for me.
In our home we had canaries. I remember the beauty of their singing and the excitement I felt when one of them would produce a long trill. Everything stopped and we’d look at the ‘boys’ to see who was singing. My appreciation was not complicated with questions about “why the caged birds sang” as it would now. Their color, quickness and responses to attention added to our home.
I also knew the vocalizations of the chickadees at our kitchen window feeder. We didn’t have a book identifying birds but the feeder was close to the kitchen sink and gave us a clear view of their antics. I knew the familiar sound of woodpeckers at work. It took me years to find a Pileated Woodpecker, the big guys of loud distinct woodpecker drilling. I knew, too, the rare screech of a bird of prey before it swooped, and the rougher sounds of blue jays and crows calling.
Looking back to my adolescence, when my family lived in Southern California, we took trips to the desert where again I fell in love. One of the grandest sounds was thunder roaring across the desert floor followed by rain. One summer vacation we camped at the base of a mountain on the desert with a fast running stream. What a sound and what a sight was my dad sitting alongside the stream, both feet in icy cold water panning for gold and laughing. At night we heard deep quiet, matching the deep cold covering the camping trailer we slept in.
When I saw the Pacific Ocean I knew love again. Waves, crashing, roiling then quietly rolling up beach sand. No other climate has suited me since I lived near Huntington Beach.
In my adulthood I never ceased loving the sound of my daughter’s voice, especially when she called me Mommy. “Mommy, I love you.” When Michelle was riding a horse, the saddle leather made a soft squeaky sound that still comes to mind.
I remember driving a pony and the sound of hooves at a steady fast trot. Hoof beats are the best sounds I will ever hear and feel. I enjoyed driving, setting the horse’s head straight, encouraging impulsion and wanting to just hear the horse, not conversation.
The world has had, and will have more, wonderful composers including Handel. The great master’s piece I savored in college was The Water Music, written for the royalty to celebrate the fireworks as they floated down the river. Those were times when musicians were paid to write music, an early form of economic stimulus for poor starving artists. An idea unlikely to fly now.
Back to Andes and my favorite ear candy including: Andes School children playing any day or evening either in organized sports or pure kid chaos. The warming up of the Andes band. High School students razzing each other in fun. My niece’s laughter while she jumped on the trampoline in the back yard, especially when her Dad joined her. The noon whistle (living in a town small enough to have a noon whistle). The toot of the ancient car driven by a neighbor and dear friend, the snow plow at the beginning of winter, Laurie Andrews singing in the dark during Good Friday service.
Moving water pleases me, so I am grateful for the sounds of the Trempers-kill stream including the morning it crested over top of the small bridge outside my door. Rivers, oceans and water are the backdrop to literature for very good reason; the sound of water is compelling. It reminds us that life is always moving. We can choose to acknowledge we’re always moving downstream.
As I write, John is playing. Most often he’s practicing, other times composing. On Thursday night we will share our home with friends, who are also committed performing musicians, and they will make wonderful music. There will be stories, laughter, restarts, “Let’s try that again”, and applause (from me, the only audience member). Homemade music gives me joy. Hopefully what they are practicing will bring joy to others, too ~