In the north cedar grove there’s a tree which is leaning against its neighbour, a fellow cedar. They’re both tall, about 50-plus feet, healthy, and slender -- though fortunately for the tilting one, its supportive neighbour is somewhat thicker.
I became aware of them on a windy day because sound is created when their trunks and branches rub together. Sometimes it sounds like a grunt, sometimes a moan, sometimes a squeak. I suppose lots of factors affect the tones: wind speed, the dryness/dampness of the bark, the temperature.
This morning was the first autumn day that offered a hint of the season to come – a fierce north wind and plummeting temperatures arrived hard on the heels of an overnight rain. The predicted high was 5C (41F) and the current temperature was 3C (37F).
I rooted around in my closet and donned my camo jacket for the first time in a few months. Was pleased to find a small bottle with a sip’s worth of belly warmer in one pocket. Slightly less pleased to find dozens of bits of crumbled peanut shells in the other. There was also a glove in each, though I likely wouldn’t need them.
By the time Ben and I got to the corner, 90 seconds into our walk, I was fishing around for those gloves. The wind whipped leaves into a frenzied blur of gold, red and orange. Ben was mesmerized. There were too many, moving too quickly. He couldn’t isolate a target.
My eyes teared constantly until we got to the shelter of the grove. I paused there to wipe them and my glasses. That’s when I heard it.
The two cedars were singing. It was high-pitched, nearly flute-like, and oddly familiar. Oddly, because although I’d heard many such leaning trees and rubbing limbs over the years, they tended to have a repetitious, one or two-note sound.
Today’s tones were not like that at all. There were some sharp, staccato notes and some that held longer. I was nearly positive that I had never heard trees making sounds that were so musical. Yet, it was familiar.
As you’re well aware of by now, Benny’s strong suit is not patience. He’d spent two whole minutes exploring the immediate area while I was paused and now it was time to move along.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the technique he uses to get my attention when he decides I’ve lingered in one place for a nanosecond longer than he thinks is prudent.
He runs full tilt towards me - could be from any direction - leaps, turns his body to the side and slams into me with all four paws before bouncing off, landing upright and prancing away.
If I don’t get the hint immediately, it’s obviously because he caromed off the wrong part of my body. So he tries it again from another direction. The worst ones are from the front when I’m gazing upward at birds. Luckily, I’ve had all the children I want and a higher voice is sort of natural when a guy gets old.
Wiping futilely at the muddy paw prints on my jeans, I acquiesced to his suggestion and moved along.
I soon became absorbed in looking for birds and watching squirrels and catching glimpses of salmon and forgot about the song until we re-arrived at the grove on the homeward leg of our walk.
Daring to test Ben’s patience yet again, I stopped for a moment to listen while imbibing a wee drop of belly warmer.
Suddenly, it clicked. I knew where I’d heard similar music.
Of all things, the intermittent, flutey sighing, up and down the scale, sounded like the calls of whales. There was a distinct similarity to the haunting, plaintive sounds I’d heard countless times on television.
I had about 20 seconds to listen and savour the realization before Ben literally kick-started me back towards food and warmth. As we walked, the song fading behind with every step, I mused about long-lived, majestic giants of land and sea and Nature’s little miracles.