My four young chickens are 10 weeks old, and a distinguishing feature of childhood — their baby chick voices — has disappeared.
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.
Oddly enough, this brought to mind my 6 months therapy at Vanderbilt Autolaryngology in Nashville years ago. The labeling of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ vocal resonance and placement in my own studio has been difficult to voice, pun intended. The voice is such a personal gift. And yes, I’d like to think I fully remember Grandma’s cackle, but I know it’s all but slipped away. Thankfully, I can still feel her love when I make her noodles or dig in the garden.
This was so beautiful, Cate. Thank you.
Thanks, dear Cousin. I could never duplicate Grandma’s laugh, but I can still hear it when I remember all those games of Pitch around her kitchen table. Glad I share so many good memories with you!
Or, Pilgrim at Drainage Culvert. 🙂 That was a great moment with your wonderful menfolk, dear Jane. And thanks for this evocative description of your father’s farm. So peaceful …. except for the male cardinal attacking the window. Beautiful dopes, those boys, but then human creations are often hard to fathom.
I may have to start calling you Pilgrim at Fountain Creek; (look out, Annie Dillard). This is beautiful! (And thank you for mentioning those males in my house who are clearly related, and spelling the younger’s name correctly). When I go back to Dad’s farm in Iowa, I am struck by the quiet there, especially now that there are no domesticated animals (cats, dogs, pigs) living there. In summer, it’s the buzzing of bees and flies, the chirp of a female cardinal, the thunk of her possibly brain-damaged mate smacking himself into the picture window, attacking that darn reflection once again. You’d love it.