When the tide changes around our island, I hear the sounds of the earth breathing. Sitting on a rock above the high tide line today, I try to separate those sounds, to listen to each in its turn.
First is the subtle snap and crackle as the rockweed catches, then loses, its salty sustenance from the sea. Its little balloon pockets of leaves noisily expand and contract with the moving tide. Then the water slaps against the rocks , sloshing now one, now another, trying in vain to keep them all happy.
Above me on the hill the late summer grasses calmly converse among themselves , aided by the breeze that joins the changing tide. A kingfisher hurries by, chattering, always intent on finding a better place to watch for schools of small herring creating silver drops as they jump near the water's surface.
On the water the conversations are louder. Bonaparte's gulls flutter from one spot to another like black-headed butterflies, talking all the time. Their high-pitched rasp beckons their more raucous cousins, the glaucous-winged gulls, whose loud cries penetrate the quiet afternoon.
The mosquito-buzz of motors is on the water, too, as boats carry people back and forth across the inland sound. The speed of the boats seems to indicate matters of great urgency, or of none at all unless it be the speed itself. Occasionally the flapping of a sail that has lost its wind power adds a sound like clean bed sheets hanging to dry on a windy day. The sailors attached to them can then be heard to shout unintelligible commands to each other -- their voices carrying farther than they realize across the water.
A noisy flapping announces that a cormorant has given up fishing and is making himself airborne in order to try another spot. The smaller birds, like pigeon guillemots and mergansers, simply lift themselves into the air, but the cormorant makes a great display of taking off and landing.
I recall in my mind's ear sounds of early morning, like the great blue heron flying slowly just above the water, croaking to anyone who might be up that early as he passes by. On the far hills I can almost hear other sounds -- cedar branches stirring in the forest, deer quickly but carefully picking their way through the woods, the chittering of a squirrel, his tail wagging as fast as his tongue, the chuckle of a small stream splashing between mossy rocks, and the rarest of treats -- a bald eagle soaring past so close you can hear the rush of wind through his wings.
The rain has its own set of languages, dripping through the pine needles, landing with a dull thump on patches of moss, bouncing on the water, rolling down a squirrel's tail to a delicate plop beside him.
My thoughts return to the sea, its tide rising at my feet, where there are certainly other sounds beyond my decibel range. I wonder what the crab sounds like, waddling sideways along the bottom of the clear water near shore, or what the moss says as it grows on the rock's sharp edge. I wonder what a tiny jellyfish emits as it opens and closes its parachute body to move through the water, or what sound a spider makes when it sees the sun cast rainbow shadows off every strand of its web strung among the grasses on the hill.
I pause, and listen again to the island symphony of the earth's breathing.