Day four. So what can you hear without the hums of modern life? Birds, insects, weather, neighbors passing on the road – the great web of living – when its not drowned out by other things.
So far I’ve stayed at schoolhouse compound with Vic, his wife, Sarah, and baby Holly since arriving from the snow storms of New York. Plopped down - somewhere? Slowly piecing together NOT a “picture” of where I am, but a sonic map. It is much slower going to connect all the things I’ve heard, get used to the birds, to know from listening which way is east, know the wind from the pepper tree. I want to restore the balance of my senses by really listening to where I am.
I decide to take my first day out of the compound, head north, hit that roughly paved road driving on the left side. Destination Murrumbidgee River. Need water after all this dry open space – need to find the flow.
The Murrumbidgee. This is the great cultural passage way of the Aboriginal peoples who have lived on their lands for 60,000 years. Language and trade flowed up and down while the Celts were fighting the Romans. I nose my way along the back side of town past ramshackle shacks seeking the hollows, edging past the sacrificial giant “water leisure feature” that attracts the grey nomads and suburban children.
There’s a back way that takes me down into an area that is now protected and being restored the Wiradjuree to a state close to that of before first contact. As I go deeper into the gum forest it becomes magical. Green filtered light and huge ancestral gum trees, the ancient grandmother and grandfather trees to their tribes. There is a black line where the floods came last year, and it is way way up on the trunks. The floods must have carried off all the debris, because it is pristine. Elfin. Magic. Nature spirits so strong, and showing in the forms of the various tribes of trees as they reach up to the light.
The atmosphere is totally different in here. On this ultra-hot day it is cool and filtered with breezes sweeping through the gum trees.
It is open sounding for a forest, spacious and generous, no slap back echos, not as soft and diffuse as a pine forest, not as tight and closed as the oak and maple forests I know from home. This acoustic by itself is pleasing and enjoyable. The breezes are high overhead, sweeping throu that special filtered leaf sound peculiar to gum trees. But down here on the forest floor it is open and vibrant sounding. Not like a cottonwood forest where the leaves rattle and ratle up and down the tree. This functions sonically like a fountain does in a city. It masks everything around it and covers it up so you cannot hear past it. But in the forests along the Murrumbidgee you can hear all directions down low while simultaneously hearingthe high sweep of leaves brushing the sky. Its intoxicating.
I take the turn for First Beach, find a muddy swimming hole near the river. I’d like to try making a marimba of this fallen or drifted gum wood so I wander off a ways and find myself at the base of a massive progenitor tree, an ancient one with a huge hollow base. Theres a limb that must have fallen during the storm.
I sit in this atmosphere, soaking it in, some high shiny insect plays a solo in the canopy, not overwhelming like a movie, but just barely there, a shade of interest. A tune wells up in me, seeking a way out, a melody, a rhythm, a feeling, something about early childhood meeting old age. I keep this in my minds ear while I seek for an instrument, a simple one, to accompany this emergence.
There is some amazing bark from this tree, and it looks like nothing I’ve ever seen. Strong, formed by the complex impression of the tree, but it comes off in large pieces like sounding boards of curvy guitars.
I quickly wrap a harpsichord sring from my bag round it, bend it to gain tension, pluck and play. Here is the song, accompanied by youth splashing in the Murrambidgee in the background.
I move through this forest in a trance, the skyies are building for a storm now and the trees sway, and the birds seek shelter – the songs somehow alarmed and disturbed. I dont want to get Sarah’s car stuck in the mud so I head back to Narrandera and stop for fish and chips. I’m hungry but I’m not ready for the beating that this consumer soundscape gives me after an afternoon of such acoustic beauty.
I sit, eat my grease and salt, absolutely delicious. You can just hear “Good Morning Starshine” from Hair struggling to rise above the huge roar of the fat ventilator. Price of progress?