January/February 2014


10 Sounds That Make You Feel More Alive

1. The Floating Trumpet
Imagine Louis Armstrong with lungs the size of a Volkswagen and a trumpet the size of a hollow cedar tree. Now imagine Louis pouring every hour of practice, every smoky-hall performance, every ounce of his huge soul into a single pure note set free over a mirror-calm sea. That’s the sound that occasionally lifts from the nose of a humpback whale on a late summer evening. Hear it once and it will long echo against the walls of memory.

2. The Wave of Whispers
Barnacles, those crusted critters clustered on intertidal rocks, are, at first listen, not the most vocal of species. But pass the shadow of your body over a low-tide boulder on a still morning and you’ll hear a wave of whispers, all those little lives drawing tight the fortress of their shells to keep the looming monster at bay.

3. The Afternoon Snack
Inside the barnacle’s sharp, white walls is the fleshy goo of the critter itself. You’d have to eat a thousand to make a meal, which is just what bears do, mushing the helpless crustaceans with a paw and then licking the crushed mess from the rock. Barnacles being crunched to death is not, honestly, that compelling a sound, but when it’s happening between the molars of a six-hundred-pound bear and you’re close enough to hear, it becomes a hair-raising, smile-inducing, how-did-I-get-so-lucky-to-be-alive racket.

4. The Frozen Burp
Paddle up an inlet filled with glacial ice and listen closely as you float by each bobbing berg. Some (not all) hiss and pop, releasing tiny bubbles of air captured by snowflakes in a storm that swirled before white-wigged men declared this country’s independence. Atmospheric burps from another time bubbling by the bow of your boat.

5. The Prehistoric Cackle
Every minute of the last million years, a sandhill crane somewhere on the planet has called out in a seamless lineage of cackling, bugling brilliance. Lay your body beneath a sky of circling cranes and ride their voices back through a landscape prowled by short-faced bears and giant sloths. Listen to the glaciers come and go, other species rise and fall. As the cranes slip to specks on the edge of hearing, follow their fading voices to the horizon of dinosaurs.

6 – 9. The Click-Snap-Snuffle-Crunch
In a beachside meadow on a day without a twitch of wind, lie down and wait. In between the rumbling roar of bees, listen for the delicate whir of dragonflies in flight and the quick click, click as they nip the wings from their midday meal of fresh mosquito. Wait for the sun to dry the seed pods of lupine to the snapping point. When they finally twist open, listen for the pellets of seeds raining in all directions. And, if you’re really lucky, just after a raven passes, air rushing through each primary feather, you might hear the snuffling rustle of a hunting shrew and the triumphant crunch of impossibly tiny teeth tearing into the dull armor of a beetle’s back.

10. The Belly Jiggler
And the sound we cannot hear enough: two friends at the campfire, eyes and ears filled to bursting with the day’s adventure, and when one friend says something with only the tiniest trace of actual humor the other responds with a belly-jiggling chuckle that catches in the first friend’s throat and causes him to snort like a pig and soon both friends are laughing like they haven’t laughed since the third grade, laughing at laughter herself, the mischievous child born of the marriage of all that is gorgeous in the world and how preciously little time we have to soak it all in.

Hank Lentfer is a sound recordist, gardener, and writer. Most mornings he’s out listening to his wild neighbors and expanding his catalogue of natural sounds. Hank lives with his wife and daughter on the banks of a small stream on the edge of a tiny town in the expansive landscape of Southeast Alaska.