Sounds from Alaska: The Hermit and the Humpback

What does a furtive, feathered, woodland creature with a pea-sized heart have in common with a deep-water behemoth with nostrils big enough to put your head into?

I’m not sure either. But I do know that last week at twilight, while sleeping in a tent pitched along the beach of a wooded island, I was lifted from sleep by the cathedral of sounds pouring from a hermit thrush and then slapped fully awake by the explosion of breath roaring from the giant nostrils of a humpback whale.

I lay there, eyes wide in the early twilight, adrift in clouds of sounds more evocative, riveting, sensual, surprising, and soothing than the sweetest dream. Eventually the whale swam on, the thrush quit singing, and I went back to sleep, but I can’t say what happened when or why. I can say it feels like a stunning stroke of grand good fortune to share a planet with such splendid noise makers and a bonus piece of good luck to have gone to sleep where they’d wake me up.


Hank Lentfer is the author of Faith of Cranes. He lives on a creek bank in Gustavus, Alaska.


  1. This is a great introduction to this Monday morning, and to the week. Listening to this over coffee – ahhh.

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