Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hearing Sounds of Maine

A few nights ago a friend called and asked if I would like to go to the LOBSTER SHACK for supper. And we did. The Lobster Shack is a small facility with very limited indoor space and a quite large outdoor dining area right on a tip of land on the rocky coast. It has been there for many years, once just a tiny "take out" and now a thriving summer attraction. What does that have to do with "Sounds of Maine!" Well --

The tide was out when we got there. When the tide is out they low swells reach the rocks and gently flow over the low rocks barely making more than a whisper. Noises of people - young and old - as they waited for their orders or waited in line to place orders were an interesting mix of languages. There were Asian, Indian, and European visitors, as well as those from within our own US from states as far away as California, Florida, Washington State, all with different voices. There were children climbing on the rocks, examining the tide pools, calling back to watchful parents about their finds. There were the watchful parents calling to the children to be careful, to come eat, or to just "COME!" I over heard one dad scolding his bespectacled six year old to "never go away again without telling him." She said "OKAY!" and skipped back over the rocks.
I remember, just barely, when I could do that. Every now and then the voice from the "SHACK" called out a number - well into the four hundreds - announcing another order ready.

The sea birds were floating up and down over the low swells just off shore , now and then calling out a message to the rest of the flock, maybe issuing a challenge, or speaking of contentment. The establishment does not "allow" feeding the gulls, but who can predict that a child will drop a french fry, or someone will accidentally tip up the remainder of their meal. Gulls wait nearby and are amazingly swift at picking up after the careless patrons. The unfortunate gulls who weren't quick enough, got left out, and their squawk is legend. Some screech, some sound like complaining cats. Some utter low snarls.

The breeze off the ocean was not actually much relief on this very hot evening, but as the sun set the air did cool a bit. Suddenly I became aware that the sounds from the ocean had changed. The tide had turned. The waves were no longer just gently flowing over the low rocks. They were now gathering volume and butting against them. The wash flowed into the lowest tidal pools. Foam formed at the crests and was left behind in small beards. Within thirty minutes the waves were strong and forceful, assaulting the rocks incoming, and dragging back around them. The sounds became audible over the voices, which seemed to have diminished along with the heat of the sun. Two metal sculptured mobiles were spinning in the increased breeze and emitting a new sound like a sound of a child's pinwheel but much louder. A wind chime tinkled at the Candle Shack Gift Shop. What a lovely music it all made.

The night we were there was not foggy, but on a foggy night the electronically triggered fog horn blasts out its warning to the ships at sea that they are approaching the dangerous rocky coast. The old fog horn was heard all over the area. The new fog horn is pre-directed and we don't hear it much on land. I liked the old fog horn

In summer when I was a child the sound of the waves would lull me to sleep at night. The sound of the "one lunger" lobster boats would wake me early in the morning. On nights when the tide was out I would like awake for hours and that is when my imagination would run rampant visualizing all the what-ifs of childhood.

When we moved back to Kennebunk in the fall, the sound of the Unitarian Church bell, a great Paul Revere creation I was told, would strike hourly - maybe at the half also. I would complain for perhaps three nights that it kept me away, and then it too became the sound that put me to sleep. At nine each night the "nine o'clock whistle" would blow and if I was still awake, it cued my time to drop off.

Onn nice days I take my dog to Yarmouth were he gets a chance to run in my son's enclosed land. Nick doesn't like snow plows, lawnmowers or cars that lug boats. or trailers. He also doesn't care for vehicles that tote canoes or ladders on top. Don't ask my why. The tall trees there are almost never completely still. They are home to a variety of birds and squirrels. It doesn't take much to get the high branches swaying gently making a sound which makes me think of someone riffling through a handful of papers. When I am there I enjoy listening to that quiet noise which I understand some people pay money to get in a bedside machine. Mixed with the chirping of small sparrows and the occasional tweet of some larger bird I can't identify, the traffic passes with a variety of noises. The big blue bus that takes passengers from an off-site parking lot to the boat ramp grinds with it's load of passengers, luggage, bicycles and groceries. I was recently told this is the "new bus" - much better than the "old bus."

Interrupting the relative quiet, except for the traffic, my dog Nick waits and watches at the street side of the fence for the lawn care trucks hauling mowers, the utility trucks with their ladders on top, or the vacation boater hauling ihis fourteen footer home after a few hour on the ocean. Then he takes off. He is old and sometimes lame, but comes remarkably to life like a horse headed for the barn. He barks noisily until they are out of sight around the bend - and then he watches and waits all over again. I throw the ball for him and he picks it up, but if one of those pesky vehicles goes by, the ball gets left on the spot and the chase is on.

The lakes of Maine are hidden among trees and at the foot of hills. They don't have the beach fronts of the ocean, but there are sandy areas that pass for beaches. Having grown up by the ocean, I never think of them as beaches. There are no strong waves unless there is a storm. The larger lakes can whip up very credible waves when the wind is strong. The sounds by the lake are mostly breezes blowing through the trees, and the voices of the many who prefer fresh water to salt for their swimming and boating. The sounds of boats are not, in my mind, music. They are noise. The quiet canoes with only the swish of the paddles in rhythmic cadence are music. Like the brush on a brass cymbal or drum head. Nice and even and quieting.

There are trains in Maine. Not the old smoke belching laboring kind, but trains nevertheless. One goes through not far from my home every morning around two o'clock. It is a freight train, of course, at that hour and it rumbles deep in the earth and my condo trembles just a bit. It used to wake me at first; now I am lucky if I get to hear and feel it. Trains are good. the daytime trains blow their whistles at the crossings. It's a good sound. They are far more efficient than trucks, hauling as many as 150 cars carrying goods from pulp to refrigerated produce. Coal, fertilizer, pulp, potatoes, lumber - all at one time. The sound of a train whistle, like the fog horn, has changed with modern technology. I liked the old train whistle powered by a shot of steam into the pipe.

In the summer the sounds of Maine include the many outdoor concerts in the parks in all the towns and cities. It's a tradition which probably goes back to early man when chanting and dancing around the fire was a ritual. The gypsies of Europe fiddled their way around the towns and villages; the troubadours traveled to the castles of all old countries entertaining as they went. Maine has a tradition of outdoor concerts.

Maine has coyotes that live in packs or dens. They proclaim their territories and perhaps issue challenges or boast of family strength in the evening after things are quiet. A few years ago a young one sat in my yard almost nightly and howled. He didn't seem to have ties so maybe he was just proclaiming his independence. I would not have minded, but Nick was determined to take up the challenge. I had to light up the yard and check every evening before I put him out for "last call." I guess he grew up and found a family or created one. Occasionally I hear the mournful sounds of coyotes somewhere in the distance, in same direction as the train. Perhaps as the train slowed for a crossing, the coyotes boarded an open box car and moved to another town.

From Sunday morning church bells to the wail of police sirens and the scream of the fire trucks approaching a corner - Maine has all the sound effects. If you 're traveling around the state you might be fortunate enough to hear the bellow of a bull moose or the grunt of a black bear. You probably will hear the squirrels, both gray and red, chattering in the trees; the little chatty chipmunk who scurries around the ground; the cardinal, wren, chickadee, woodcock. Gulls, terns, loons, sea ducks - all have their voices and add to the sounds in Maine.

Midcoast Maine has an outdoor harp on top of a hill. There is a community where bagpipes are a "feature" of the town. There are quarries with rock crushers working to provide driveway, garden and building material. The sound of blasting and crushing are the sounds of industry. The woods in northern Maine with their lumbering operations - saws, skidders, huge old trees falling with earth shaking thuds. When you are out, where ever you are, stop a moment and listen for the sounds of that moment in time in that place.


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