When the phone rings for the first time, it’s a kid named Jason hoping I’ll send a check to the Alaska Democratic Committee; the second time it’s a pollster wanting just fifteen minutes to learn about which issues are important to me; and the third and fourth times I have the good sense not to answer. The radio, meanwhile, spills a growing pool of worry about Ebola and Middle Eastern thugs threatening to remove the head of another journalist.
Outside, a bird rings. The first time it’s a half-hearted whistle of a varied thrush gathering a few last grubs before the flight south. Next, it’s the squeaking honk of a nuthatch cutting through the high banter of a flock of chickadees. And then, from halfway up a huge spruce, a raven launches into a long, impassioned speech that starts with a solid series of croaks, then builds into twittering, beak-snapping yelps before sliding into an imitation of a flying bullfrog. While the content of the speech is way over my head, there’s no doubt about the sizzling style of the delivery.
And to think that right now, as I type and you read, there are thousands of such speeches spilling from trees in Finland and Kamchatka, from high rock perches in the Himalayas and low sandy basins in Death Valley. Every day, from the snow-crusted tundra to the rain-drenched jungle, ravens, like rebel monks in their black feather robes, broadcast the bird’s-eye news.
What if we listened? What would happen if, for just five minutes, every talk show and T.V. tabloid, every Chamber of Commerce luncheon and political podium, every election analyst focused their microphones on the nearest raven? What would happen if our two party-system moved over and made room for the party of corvids squarking and rocking from coast to coast?
Unanswerable questions, to be sure. But ask me to choose between the sounds ringing inside or outside of the walls of my house and I’d need about a quarter of a millisecond to come up with an answer.
Here’s the news from my neighborhood. What’s the nearest feathered orator got to say on your end of town?
Hank Lentfer, author of Faith of Cranes, is ear-deep in a new career recording the whistles, clicks, groans, and splashes of his wild neighbors. Read (and listen to) the rest of his “Sounds from Alaska” series here.