Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So Quiet You Could Hear The Snow Melt

A long, long time ago, a friend asked me if you can really hear corn grow. You can. But try as I might, I couldn’t get my friend to believe me. Perhaps it’s my reputation as somewhat of a ham. I still recall a line a newspaper reporter (Patrice Wendling) wrote about me, when she sat in with me and my wife (we were friends then, not spouses) during a morning radio show 20-some years ago.

The line was something like “his booming voice and imposing presence belie his hammy nature”.

If you’ve spent time in or near a cornfield on a hot, quiet July day, you CAN hear it grow. It’s a chorus of variously-pitched squeaks, and I’m NOT making this up. Ask a farmer. The last time I heard corn growing was last summer on my brother-in-law’s dairy farm in Outagamie County. I was up there visiting my mom, and my sister trumped the proffered visit to a restaurant in Appleton by offering to make us a home-cooked meal in her home.

That’s an offer I’ll never say “no” to, and it meant her husband could join us. It’s a family dairy farm, a disappearing breed in Wisconsin, and before my brother-in-law “came in from the fields” to wash up and join us, I deliberately wandered off their back porch to the cornfield on their “east 40”. The sun was high in the sky; the day was calm and quiet; and the cornfield symphony was clearly audible.

It’s the sort of thing city-dwellers don’t get to experience.

Last week, in our glorious run of beautifully sunny late winter – early spring days, I had another one of those “communing with nature” moments. It was mid-afternoon and I was taking a break from pounding the keyboard. I had let the dogs out to run, and then stepped out onto the deck off the master suite of our home. It’s a big deck, about 8 feet above ground level, facing south.

The dogs had finished their fenceline patrol and were sitting quietly at “moderate alert” on the lower deck, which comes off the dining room and connects, via a wide stairway, with the upper-level deck. It was 43 degrees, but it felt like 60 in the full sun. It was completely silent.

We’re just far enough south of Madison that we don’t get much traffic noise. It’s quiet around us and I know most of the “regular” sounds – birds, squirrels, a distant dog, and so on. But I was hearing something I didn’t recognize. A very soft, gentle, and nearly continuous sound way in the background.

I finally realized I was actually hearing the snow melt!

As the sun pounded down on the snow on the ground, tiny “snow structures” were collapsing as the snow melted, and the sound I was hearing was the collapse of millions of tiny “snow structures”. I looked down on the yard and the sparkling snow and tried to simply enjoy the moment.

The dogs heard a squirrel in the maple tree that shades the lower deck in summer, and the silence was broken and the moment was over. But the moment is “stored on the hard-drive”, to be enjoyed again in reflection – just like the summer day in the cornfield.

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