A thousand nameless noises

The majority of my blog posts, especially those concerning walks – urban and beyond – tend to be very focused on the visual. Last year, on a favourite walk in the South Downs, I tried to think and engage a little more with the sounds I could hear as I moved. I soon realised the impossibility of noting everything, so based on my notes, here’s my attempt to represent the first ten minutes…

Carriage door slides open, a forced pneumatic sigh, is followed by a click. The train’s arrived. I step down to a platform – a small Sussex commuter stop somewhere south of the M25. 

Walking boots on already, they stutter, as they start to speak in the flat, percussive tongue of rubber sole on concrete. Leaving the station, I cross a busy road, then head along a dry mud path, beside a wood. A popular spot, judging by the empty condom packets, mixing it with old bottles and food wraps by the fence edge. 

The sound, as foot meets ground begins to change, softening into a metronomic pad, pad, pad – accompanied by the almost imperceptible whispered chuck of boot on chalk grown grass.

Later, up on the high downs, I hope to hear skylarks. I always enjoy the pleasing shock in the contrast between the drab brown looks of these small birds and the piping, apparently overflowing joy of their calls, as they come popping out of long grass, like a choir of demented rubber balls, springing for the stars. 

But before I reach the bouncing larks, I try to tune in on the multitude of anonymous, small noises, produced as small winds buffet, punch and tickle, the plants around me. These are almost always underscored by the hum of traffic and the sighing-whine of passing planes

Within the comfortable low roll of the downland, each encounter between air and object, produces subtly different effects. The flick of a breeze on a lichen-coated branch of hawthorn, contrasts with the softer murmur of the same through grass and wildflowers. 

Did we stiff English ever name such sounds? Perhaps some ancient forebears tried. A Brythonic tribe, well versed in this region, surely had terms for the subtle music of the winds?  I feel a strange ache, for words and phrases that may not exist to relay natural sounds.

A sudden rustle-scrape-pause-scrape erupts in undergrowth to the left. Not wind. Something more solid lurks behind this. Noise that may be blackbird, the quivering of a tiny rodent, or a busy rat. Whatever stirs, it doesn’t want to meet the large biped crashing by. I imagine a nervous creature, tensed within this brambly nettle-bindweed tangle. I can’t see what made the sound, but that’s no matter. Something briefly here at the same time as me, made its presence felt, left a sonic pawprint in the air. And sometimes, that’s enough.

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