“Now I will do nothing but listen” – Walt Whitman *
This was the day as you see it. Air clear as crystal, and a wind sharp as a knife gusting across the lake. The distant and winter-low sun glittered on frost and the whole world glowed in deep shimmering shades of elemental blues – sky blue, sea blue, indigo, ultramarine, sapphire, cerualean, cobalt. The surface of ice on Mayer Lake shone purest lapis lazuli.
We often come here to this small boat-landing on the long narrow lake to hear the wind as it skims across the water, to see how light glimmers and glitters across the riffled surface, how the wavelets swish and lap on the little stretch of sand and pebble beach. In summer the near shore is green and gold with water lilies.
But it’s winter now on Haida Gwaii. Toward the end of January and the beginning of February this year we had some cold, cold weather. As most people know our climate is usually characterized by water in its rain, rainy and raining form. We do get cold spells in the winter, and in some years we get snow. And this was an unusual year as the nights were so very cold, and there was no snow. On Mayer Lake ice formed clear across the lake, and most unusually, with no snow, the gleaming surface was absolutely smooth and transparent as glass.
But, on that day in February, it was sound that literally tuned me into place. At first I wasn’t sure about what was going on around me. For a few moments I felt a bit confused, slightly disoriented. And then the neurons in my brain got themselves organized and I realized, with surprise, that it was what I was hearing that was disturbing my usual, expected pathways of perception.
A deep, complex array of sound was emanating from the icy lake and resonating in the air all around me… so eerie and other-worldly that I was stunned into stillness.
There was a lot of cracking and creaking and the oddest laser-blaster kinds of sound, beginning in a loud high pinging note followed by a full cascade of notes descending at speed into deep sonic basses, over and over again, and from everywhere on the lake.
Alongside the snapping and groaning, there were also episodes of long sustained hoom-ing notes travelling across the entire tympanum of ice and echoing from all sides of the lake. As I was standing very quiet, it felt as if great columns of air were advancing and retreating and encircling my head, and enveloping my whole body. And then fading and sinking mysteriously in such a way that I felt still physically reverberating within a musical tone, but wasn’t sure if I could actually hear it or not.
I have been to Mayer Lake many times, in many seasons and have seen its many variable moods of water, wind and light. But I had no idea that this kind of symphonic extravaganza was always (and is always) an immanent potentiality of this place…waiting only for the transformation of water into ice, and the passage of warmth and cold across the surface of the lake for its manifestation.
Ah yes, frozen lakes do sing …in the geophony of the earth; the sounds of earth, wind, water, fire and ice.
Here is a video which captures some of what we heard – with thanks to MKTL for making the best of what could be found in my video clip.
*(via Murray Shafer The Soundscape: the Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World.)