Monday, August 5, 2013

Aspiring to music

Since Saturday was the only day over the August long weekend that rain wasn't predicted, and since it was, by almost anyone's standards, perfect, Bill and I didn't so much seize the day as seize the weather and drive up to Rowan's Ravine for a picnic.  I love the drive itself, particularly the rolling hills, sometimes golden with canola, sometimes grey-green with grain.  I love the cairns some farmers have made of the stones they've hauled out of their fields.  I love the shoes and boots and runners a farmer has put on his fence posts and power poles, and noted there were a few new arrangements of these.

When we got out of the car at Rowan's Ravine, though, I realized what I particularly like about the spot.  Aspens.  The park has been heavily planted with aspens who make their own susurating music.  I suspect that most people don't go to the park for sounds, unless they're particularly fond of the mosquito buzz of boats.  It's clear that they go for the beach, for the pleasure of sunshine and clouds, and the open horizon of a large lake set in the midst of prairie.  They might actually go to make noise.  I heard children screaming with delight, grousing with uncooperative siblings, arguing occasionally with parents.

But realizing that part of Rowan's Ravine's charm is the sound of its aspens made me attentive to sound.  As we walked, we came across a colony of barns swallows out to scoop up afternoon tea while they flew around in the sunlight.  I simply stood among them for a while, watching their aerial antics among the trees, watching them change direction in a wingbeat, and listening to their cries, which my Audubon tells me is a sharp kvik-kvik or wit-wit.  There is something so sharp and pointed about their cries that contrasts completely with the arcs of their flight that I found delightful. 

The gulls, too were noisy, as they always are.  And boats were being hauled in and out of the docking area on big-motored trucks.  But as any Saskatchewan poet will tell you, one of the remarkable things about sunny afternoon on the prairie, even on a prairie lake, is the light.  In the context of being attuned to sound, I wondered whether prairie light has a sound, or whether it creates around its beams a profound stillness and silence.  After our picnic, while I finished my local berry cider, I simply sat watching trees and clouds, listening to aspens, finding myself compelled to take photographs of shadows.  Light makes sound, as anyone knows on a windy winter day when the heating of the snow creates wind.

And surely, the play of light on aspen leaves as they make their softly sparkling music, has some sound.  As Don McKay told the poets at Sage Hill, both mathematics and poetry aspire to be music--sound that is both an abstraction and yet deeply  meaningful to us.  The very physics of music suggests it is a quality inherent in our world.  Perhaps just as light is both a wave and a particle, so it gives rise to sound but also has at its core a deep stillness that is kin to shadow.  Maybe the feet on the farmer's power poles are dancing to it.


  1. I like the quantum idea of light making sound. One thing I've also learned to appreciate from living in the prairies is the anticipation of storms. You can really see them coming, and there's kind of a delicious pleasure in knowing that it's going to hail, but that you've still got about fifteen minutes to run back inside.

  2. I suspect these are really notes for a poem. I've got some of the imagery but haven't found the situation yet. Blogs can be good for something!

  3. Lovely images. Lots to ponder, particularly the comment about light, at its "core" having a "deep stillness that is kin to shadow." Here I see the dance of light and shadow as a waltz of sound and silence. Also, I need to pay more attention to the heating of the snow. I don't think I've ever been aware of it creating wind and I've lived here all my life. Always something to learn! And, yes, these images would make a fantastic poem.
    Thanks for the great read.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Lara. Your dance image is such fun.

  5. I look forward to your poem, Kathleen! Our farm was 20 miles east of Rowan's Ravine. Needless to say, I've spent a good chunk of time at Rowan's Ravine. We'd go for Sunday picnics or family events. My friends and I camped there many times. We'd go swimming, boating, fishing... It's very interesting to see how someone who doesn't have that lifelong connection with it also sees the wonderful in it.