Sunday, March 22, 2009

WAG #4: Do You See What I'm Hearing?

“WAG #4: Do You Hear What I Hear?” So often, our brain filters out the sounds we hear every day, but sounds can make a story so much more concrete and help your readers feel like they’re really there in a story. This week, go out, sit and listen. (Close your eyes if that helps!) Let your attention move from the obvious sounds to the subtle ones. Try to take in the sounds you usually filter out, whether it’s voices, traffic, children, the hum of overhead lights, or whatever. Write a short description of the sounds and your experience, especially anything unexpected.

The irony of the situation wasn't lost on me; I was sitting out on our back patio today on a very nice Florida morning and I had to wear a sweatshirt because of the slight chill in the air. The irony was that it was a sweatshirt that had Florida on it; I was thinking to myself "that's like having a thong emblazoned with 'Aleutian Isles.'"

At any rate, on with the assignment; there was the usual chirping and the occasional whine from a car passing. Our upstairs neighbors, the ones directly above us, often throw bread off their balcony to the many species of birds that flock for such a meal--and this is contrary to the explicit prohibition to do so. It is, therefore, not uncommon to see a flock of birds waiting for these doles; however, today there was only one grayish and quite large bird about 10 feet away from where I was sitting on the patio. His (because he struck me as more of a man than a woman for reasons immediately to follow) gestalt put me instantly in mind of men who, having some few strands of hair on an otherwise bald head, allow them to grow to disproportionate lengths so that they may be combed over the full complement of head. The sleek top of this bird's head presented itself as a smooth, even somewhat shiny, ornithological surface, suggesting a balding head; it's elongated neck, similarly grayish, had tufts of what seemed like strands of hair blown out and away from their proper place, leaving the distinct impression of one of these men I just now described.

The bird held its place, sentinel-like, with a kind of avian dignity; obviously reluctant to move at the sound of the nearby rustling in the lake. As I watched his stoic stance, I heard a very loud and big ratcheting sound coming from what seemed to be beyond our subject and in the thick undergrowth at the edge of the lake. C-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh; c-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh. I studied the area upon the many repetitions of this washer board sound, thinking how improbable it would be that someone would be in the bushes running thimble-clad fingers across an old timey scrubbing board. C-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh again came the sound. Our balding fellow moved; and his movement caught my eye; then c-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh the sound seemed to move with him. "No! He didn't make that sound, did he? He's too small for such a big sound." C-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh; well, let's see. I focus in on his long and very narrow beak, it doesn't move. "Is he a ventriloquist?," I ponder, as I hear c-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh again while I am looking at him. Ok, maybe he can make the sound without moving his "lips" but he can't make it without moving his throat. Cr-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh did he move it? I couldn't tell. C-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-eh, wait, there is some movement there. "Can he really make that big sound?"

At that point, my assignment came to an unexpectedly abrupt end; I'll never know for sure whether he made that sound or not; the unusual noise brought Annabelle, my Jack Russell Terrier, to the back door with her curiosity in tow and taking umbrage that there was a trespasser in her domain. The piercing r-r-a-w r-r-a-w r-r-a-w woke me from my focused zoological reverie, and drove my subject to flight, balding head and all; including the combed back strands flowing in the gusts from taking off.


  1. Beautiful descriptions!

    I'm horribly curious about your bird now.

  2. What I enjoy most about this is that I feel like I'm right there with you.

    Great piece.

  3. Love it! Enjoyed the bird 'comb-over' - made me laugh out loud! And the 'washing board' sound. Great descriptions.

  4. I like the way your sounds gave you images like the comb-over. Great job.

  5. Hello Iain,

    The bird was worthy of a laugh. Nice images here.

  6. I'm like Chris, I'm very curious as to what the bird was. Google time! Good descriptions. The only problem I had is that you followed directions! Makes me look bad. ;)

    In addition to the bird I liked the piercing r-r-a-w r-r-a-w r-r-a-w. Brings back fond memories of Bebo, who could sound exactly like that.

  7. Lovely post Iain. I especially loved your description of the bird's hair. Perfect description, so true of some men. And the unique sound has me curious. Perhaps you should continue this as a running blog.

  8. Ian, what struck me as ironic about your piece is you were writing about sound and at the same time you used words that to me "sound" even more interesting than they "read". "Aluetian", "gestalt", "ornithological", words that create a complex sound.

    This was a lovely piece. If you ever figure out where the sound was coming from (bird or otherwise)you have to let us know.

  9. Iain,

    This blog was a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed your wonder at the funny looking bird- and the sounds it did or maybe didn't make? *smile* Super! Thanks for the good read.