BORN CONFUSED. FLY AT LIGHT. Tonight you June bugs pelt my office window in a relentless barrage—desperate wings fanning air that will not hold and tap-tap-tap-tap-tap on the glass. I turn off the lights, sneak outside, guide you through the yard by the glow of my phone. A conductor of insects. Flap-flap-flap-flap-flap. We serenade each other into the wee hours.
Morning comes. Birds take over. Doves, finches, herons, terns, geese, seagulls, crows, jays, chickadees. Always a new bird. Specks in the sky call out prey. Voices in trees talk in coded song. Across the road, on the roof, behind the empty chicken coop, on the garden floor. A gang not entirely known whistling the oldest tunes. A chorus of shifts in tempo, stereophonics, melody, harmony, and cacophony—birds singing till dusk.
Now let me tell you about silence. My front yard is a huge tidal marsh probably three or more square kilometres. Each day, twice, it fills with a metre of sea water and then drains to land. Millions of gallons muscled in and out by the moon. The only sound? Maybe the hiss of gurgling clam holes at low tide. But the flats are flooding now. The clams are drowned quiet.
Farther up the coast is open ocean. It’s where the rising seas bash boats and dead marine animals against the cliffs. On these shores giant trees, chunks of land, and sometimes even dreamers like me (their screams unheard) wash out to sea. The disappearing coast, I’ve heard it called. The ocean is raging this afternoon, so my village rumbles. It’s haunting, the boom of a violent ocean I cannot see amplified on the still water in front of my house. Deadly noise buffered by silence.
Ah, the music of nature. But at the bottom of my driveway, latched to these sounds like a cancerous lesion: a rusted utility box that buzzzzzzzes nonstop. Multiple motors switching on and off over the course of days. High pitched and smooth. Low tone with a rattle. Loud and quiet, but always there. At times, electricity is the only sound. I’ve called the power company and the phone company, but no one knows whose it is or what it is. hmmm... My wife can’t even hear it, she tells me. So I try not to hear it too. I try. I do.
As darkness finally sets on this day in June, I stand next to the box, practising not to hear. I concentrate on the moon shimmering in the high tide. I listen for the ocean, the marsh, maybe a night bird. No. It’s all gone.
But the box hums with an unusual sputter tonight—organic and alive. I look to the sky, to the street light clicked on over my head. And there you are again, dozens of you tap-dancing to electric first light. Flap-flap-flap-flap-flap. Those useless wings. I turn on my phone. You come to me singing.
PHOTO BY JOHN McCARTHY (This photo was taken in the summer of 2014 in the heart of the Indian Path Common, a small, protected parcel of land near Riverport, Nova Scotia. There are three hiking trails that wind through pristine wilderness, a couple of look-offs, and a quiet patch of marshy wetlands. It is truly a special place to those who know it.—John McCarthy)