Sound Journal 597


The Music of Elusive Birds

When considering what sound-based passage of text I would use to create a word cloud, my first thought was to grab A Sand County Almanac from my bookshelf. This collection of essays by Aldo Leopold contemplates the flora and fauna of the part of the world where I live (southern Wisconsin) and the role of people in that landscape. The educational value of this book is in its exquisite descriptions of a vanishing landscape that many people will never experience in person, and in promoting an ethic of land conservation that was foreign to most people when the book was published in 1949 (a year after Leopold’s death). As Leopold wrote in the Foreword, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” It was not until the 1960s environmental movement that this book became known as the classic it is today.

I could have selected any of a number of passages, but I chose this beautiful passage from the essay “September: A Choral Copse”:

There is a peculiar virtue in the music of elusive birds. Songsters that sing from top-most boughs are easily seen and as easily forgotten; they have the mediocrity of the obvious. What one remembers is the invisible hermit thrush pouring silver chords from impenetrable shadows; the soaring crane trumpeting from behind a cloud; the prairie chicken booming from the mists of nowhere; the quail’s Ave Maria in the hush of dawn. No naturalist has even seen the choral act, for the covey is still on its invisible roost in the grass, and any attempt to approach automatically induces silence.

From “September: A Choral Copse” in A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1966 edition, originally published 1949)

This passage contains so many richly worded phrases (such as “mediocrity of the obvious”) that I kept many of the words together for my word cloud. I selected a color palette that I associate with the month of September.