I've been out to my extended backyard several times this break: first alone, in the afternoon; then with Alex, at sunset; then finally tonight, at 1. It seemed inappropriate to allow the solstice to go by unrecognized, but what got me out there was the promise of a lunar eclipse. Of course, I knew there would be no lunar eclipse or even a single star, given the thick gray blanket of clouds keeping the Earth's warmth in and the cold of the Universe out. I'll admit, then, that what really rousted me from at 1 this morning was my reading material: Gordon Hempton's One Square Inch of Silence. Or rather, the memory that book returned me to of the remarkable impression of meeting the man himself, and hearing him tell much of the beginning of the book in person.
Hastily bundled and out the door, the fear of nighttime brings me to a standstill as soon as I leave the parking lot. It'd been an unfortunate while since I'd been out this late, this alone. This place is quite a different place with the visage and psychology of late night on the solstice. Everything is bright, since the lens of pollution from Cass City is endlessly reflected among the clouds and the snow. But the light is wrong, brings no comfort, carries no color.
Getting further away from home, into the field, the first stark trees hit my peripheral vision and brittle stalks grab my ankles. Freeze. My heart imagines it's helping, preparing me for a tither. I stop, and I listen: a traditional, time-tested and time-honored (there is no way to convey the nature of what TIME means in those phrases) method for sounding out danger. And after all, this is why I am hear: to teach myself, or just allow myself to listen. There is nothing; Seeger Street to the far West rumbles like a strong gust of wind. The true wind is imperceptible now.
More steps forward. There is a new horizon in the prarie now: A and E and B and now a foot of snow and a crusty shield on top. Every step breaks the ice, ruins the relief, and leaves my indelible mark on tonight's winter. For the same reason, the field is now quite a lot more alive than ever it was before: my previous walks occurred before the snow and as it first fell. Now I cannot go more than three feet without meeting a deer or what I take to be a rabbit who passed through the place recently. The deer leave deep but very constricted holes; what I take for a rabbit, a shallow, solid stripe punctuated by small paws. I myself leave gaping wounds in the shell, a foot long and as deep. I am literally crashing through the place. Far less rude is my trespass, however, than that of the snowmobile.
A bird, to the left. At this time of night? Odd. I stop to listen. Nothing, and after a time, I resume, crashing towards the forest. My fear is gone, but as I reach the forest and an adopted tree stand, it returns: the forest provides the antidote for the sickly glow of clouds and field. It consumes the light, in a sense, and its visage is appropriate for such a fiend: stark, angular claws line the horizon, and towards the ground all sense disappears in a foggy haze. I dare not enter at night (the undergrowth is unmanageable, and the ground is speckled with puddles I could easily end up in). The bird again - and now some hooligans, enjoying . . . a pond? Perhaps not. I climb the tree stand, sweep off the snow and acknowledge the ice, and begin to listen for that bird. . . I hear something, turn swiftly to the left, and hear it - shit. The "bird" is a high-pitched whistle something in my head does very faintly every time I turn it swiftly to the left. I do so several times to confirm the hypothesis.
Then I do hear a bird - a brusque call from an owl in the forest. To whom is that owl communicating, and what does it wish to say? Listening to the land seems to be much like listening to music, though I have of course much more experience deciphering the latter. In both, however, the message and the medium are both in foreign tongues - what you hear in natural silence and in a piece of music are both intuitively meaningful, but the language of their meanings remains inscrutable even once you've deciphered the language of their symbology. In both cases, the languages are quite real, despite what little credit for existence they have been given by arrogant people. It is particularly incredible that we are now realizing (or returning to know) the extent to which acoustic communication is crucial in ecosystems, not only among species but between them.
I sit on my hands to keep the ice on the treestand from melting through to my ass. This works, but my hands are cold. I hear nothing after not waiting long enough to hear it, and head home. I follow a snowmobile trail to the corn field that, unbeknownst to me, has always ran from the forest all the way back to my house, perhaps 1500 ft. I find the high edge of a furrow and balance-beam my way home.