October 6, 2013

North Cairn: Nature's sounds in harmony

At certain moments you'd think it was rain.

It's a sound of heavy, falling droplets you notice first and then expect to feel as the whisper of mist in the canopy gathering you into itself.

What you don't anticipate is the nothing or a noticeable lack -- the visual or tactile sense of rain having been removed from the acoustics of an early-morning storm.

But that's what you get: the brimming emptiness. It is as light as muslin in the morning air, and you move, ghost-like through it, weaving in and out of the dripping eaves of the treetops, untouched by everything but the sense of place. This sound -- of night dew filtered into spider webs or falling all the way to earth -- is one of the holiest sounds in nature: The trees, barely chanting at dawn, draping a slight downfall like a vast, filmy prayer shawl from their branches, out over the landscape.

From the vantage point of science, it is the shedding of moisture that occurs when warm, humid weather during the day yields to a cool clear night, and the trees' leaves, releasing their heat, cool below the dew point. Water vapor from the day before condenses on every available surface, and night dew dissipates -- or drips -- as the warm air and dawn arrive.

It has been like a monastic call to silent veneration on these recent mornings that have culminated in unceasing sun, skies as blue as the sea and warm temperatures, more suitable to the first days of September than the unveiling of October.

I have been waking early most mornings lately, gently startled into the recollection that I am sharing my bed with someone else now: a little golden puppy. As soon as the realization resumes in my mind, I search the hills and valleys of tumbled linens for her exact location, usually wedged between the bed pillows or resting sweetly with her tiny head on the lump of down beside my head. Occasionally, though, she migrates in the night, preferring to align her spine against my blanketed leg and stretch, with all four paws straight out, as though straining toward sleep.

As soon as I find her, I am on my feet, hopefully before she awakens -- the early warning system of housebreaking a puppy. I am already well trained to know that within seconds of finishing dinner, or waking in the morning, or running around the house several times, she has to be let outdoors to relieve herself.

She's doing fine at it, really, her only mistakes happening when I lose focus, which is not often right now, when the matter of attention centers on her. True, the needs of her little, rapidly developing body have altered the character of my life and daily schedule completely, but she has moved me out into nature at odd hours and given me the chance to observe things I ordinarily wouldn't see.

Consequently, just after 6 p.m. the other evening, while she was hunting for moles and voles in the grass and brush, I spent several minutes studying a pair of harvestman, or Daddy longlegs, arachnids (not actually spiders), who had matte red bodies and the longest legs I'd ever seen on individuals of this species.

I watched them for what seemed like a long time, climbing up and down the back steps of the wooden porch, searching for something -- food, perhaps, for this is a prime spot for finding small moths and wandering crane flies.

I was struck, seeing them, at the integrity, the wholeness, the perfect blend of form and function, that nature reveals in the tiniest details. Had it been a typical day, I might have missed them, instead hurrying off to the grocery store or scurrying to get to the library.

(Continued on page 2)

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