The wind was wild at the wetlands yesterday. It roared through the land-and-water-scape. It raced across and howled into my ears. It drowned out the incessant rush of the nearby freeway. It drowned out the diverse calls of circling seagulls and the haunting cries of the chopstick-legged, needle-nose-beaked avocets - birds I had never seen or heard before.
I was curious about these new surroundings. I wanted to take this place in through all of my senses - to not only smell the brackish air; to not only feel the salty gusts; to not only see the salt marsh populated with floppy straw-colored oats and tall green rushes and flitting birds, and the roiling bay edged with hardy low-lying flora; but to also hear these unfamiliar birds, hear the lap of the rivers flowing out to the San Francisco Bay, hear the wind-chopped waves fall and fall and fall upon the shore.
I craned my neck around, trying to find a way to position my ears so they were sheltered from the din of invisible wind. Such a position did not exist, so I leaned my attention towards what I wanted to hear. I focused my awareness past the howl in the soundscape's foreground, and onto the flute-like pipings that seemed to ricochet around us as the birds called to each other, and onto the stirring shrieks of the avocets overhead. It was like trying to see a puppet show playing on the other side of a thin curtain, or like trying to remember beyond the hazy fragments of a dream, or like grasping at that evasive word on the tip of one's proverbial tongue.
With great effort, I was able to hear those screeches and tweets. In those moments when those sought-after sounds did fall hard-won upon my straining ears, they felt precious. It was like attaining sonic nirvana. Those subtle sounds disappeared from that elusive layer of focused perception the moment I noticed I heard them.
Would I have enjoyed those avocet calls nearly as much if the wind had been low, making their cries easily accessible as part of the foreground of that soundscape? Would I have even noticed them at all?