I knew this was coming, but I am nonetheless sad; there is something bouyant and endearing in the voice of chicks, a sweet helplessness and insistence that invites protection. The contented peeps and whistles of chicks eating is a transient treasure:
My youngsters are now finding their adult vocal registers; as in humans, this phase is marked by a kind of breaking and remaking. Charlotte, my Welsummer, has taken to honking, a phase I hope will soon pass, as it does not suit her otherwise delicate comportment.
I will know them by their grown-up voices. I can distinguish the deep, throaty egg cackle of my brahmas from the tinnier announcement of my buff Orpington; I recognize the soft questioning of my Americana, and the distinctive, crabby cluck of my broody faverolle. I know when one hen is telling the others she has found food, and when she is sounding a predator warning.
I know the voices of some wild things, too. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the sharp call of emerging chipmunks, and, some weeks later, the sweet chorus of spring peepers — tiny frogs — are sure signs that another long winter is over.
Spring comes to Colorado on the high-pitched whir of hummingbird wings; summer commences with the sounds of housekeeping. House wrens are busily building a nest in my side yard, their domicile declared by an elaborate warble punctuated by buzzes and churrs. Robins are nesting beneath the garage eaves; I have lately learned to distinguish their up-and-down song from the more elaborate melody of the black-headed grosbeak who is also summering in my yard.
Sound matters, not only as a means of communication, but as a defining characteristic of our lives and relationships. A few months ago, in a kitchen of Mardi Gras revelers, I was startled and delighted to hear my friend’s voice come from the mouth of his 18-year-old son. I could not only see Warren clearly in Aidan; I could hear him.
It’s like that with my mother, too, though not as pronounced; when we talk on the phone, I sometimes hear a fleeting echo of my long-dead grandmother, whose voice I can no longer reliably remember.
I consider myself sensitive to sound. I find myself attracted by some voices and repelled by others, due to tonal qualities I feel but cannot always name. When I was younger, my nightmares were often distinguished as much by violent or frightening sounds as by disturbing images. As I grew older, I quit going out to movies; the soundtracks were deafening. Our modern, technology-driven lives are a succession of cacophonies; we live in a relentless clamor that dulls our exquisite ears to the sounds that matter:
The voice of the son in the father, the mother in the daughter. The wild things all around us, and the not-so-wild, too: the sound of a chick, becoming a chicken.