On World Listening Day, 18 July 2013, I walked to the junction of the Jed Water and the Teviot to listen, record and reflect. It was several winters ago that I last stopped at this spot. Then I could approach the bank and clearly appreciate the junction of the two streams. In midsummer the banks are heavily overgrown with nettles and giant hogweed so I had to beat a path and nestle carefully into my leafy environment in order to listen.
Here the listener can barely hear the traffic, apart from the low rumble of the heavy vehicles. The river sounds are at the same time soothing and complex in their modulations. I was surprised by small fish jumping – weeks of hot weather had reduced many of the channels to trickles – hardly enough depth for fish to seek shelter. Insects made up the larger part of the foreground. A solitary kestrel flew straight at me and veered just above my head. I took this to be significant without knowing why. I’ve begun to think like this with wildlife in the same way as the Koyukon of Northern Alaska afford specific meanings to every interaction with the creatures around them, meanings based on respect for all creatures. So while I enjoy the mutual respect I just don’t know yet what each encounter means.
What I like about being obliged to go and listen is that you do just that – you go out and listen carefully and attentively. With me this tends to carry over for a few days at least. Two days after the riverside experience I was walking with my son along the leafy streets of The Grange in Edinburgh. I stopped at a garden to listen more closely and sure enough, for the first time this year, I heard with relief the intricate detail of a swarm of bees hard at work around the flowers of a Hebe plant. And to think that in our lifetimes the sound of a few dozen bees gathering nectar would be a cause for celebration.