Before leaving my town, perhaps because the emigration gene has been grafted onto my family’s DNA for several generations, I always say goodbye to the land with a certain ceremony. How many left without knowing if they would return in many years… or never. So, yes, I give importance to this personal rite: it is something that reminds me of where I am going and where I come from, which is no small thing these days. And what is my way of saying ‘see you soon’? Taking a walk through the upper part of the town, where nature is already fully recovering its domains and letting itself be heard.
I usually do the farewell route at dusk. “You’re going to be scared one day,” my mother has warned me on occasions. Don’t you see that at night any shadow or noise can scare you a lot?». And then she tells some story of people who have become temporarily speechless because of some start in the dark. A true classic of the native horror genre (especially if the episode took place near the cemetery). It is true that in the area of the small cemetery it is not uncommon to hear the
scops owl, that someone without rural culture can confuse with a call from beyond or with a madman who goes out at night to massacre terrified urbanites. It is not like this? The scops owl is a call full of mystery, the truth… it doesn’t invite you to start the walk, does it? We are going to continue to see if that witching hour between day and night reserves more voices for us.
We move a little further from the town, something that means abandoning the security of this puzzle of huddled together stone and slate houses and also its reassuring soundscape – human voices, mooing, dogs barking listlessly, an electric generator for God knows what, the TV from an older neighbor with the volume turned up to the max – to begin to appreciate the sounds of nature, which take center stage (or take their place) when human activity declines. Although few know what they are. In one or two generations we have lost a great deal of knowledge related to life in the forest, in the fields… Our grandparents knew the names of many plants, animals -even the smallest ones- and, of course, they knew their ‘language’. Our parents, and less. And we? With luck, we identify three or four birds by their song and we are able to terrify ourselves with the nocturnal sound of some small mammal whose name we may not even know. Yes, we are natural illiterate. And I confirm that in my farewell walks. I start to listen. Something barks (?) in the distance, it’s very faint. Is far. And I say something because it’s not a dog asking for dinner, it’s a
Roe deer. Yes, roe deer bark. Many of us no longer know that.
Let’s keep tuning our ears. The longer we listen, the more noises are added to the symphony.
Blackbirds, tawny owls, nightjars… at least these three voices are distinguished. Sometimes they overlap. But some are closer than others and are relieved. They are heard, but not seen. Why should they be displayed?
So I wonder, do birds sing at night? Yes, some yes, as I check. Even a
Mockingbird is encouraged to join the orchestra to underline the statement!
The branches of the trees move, it’s a bit windy. And the leaves emit her sound, an eerie fro fro, like a bride dragging the gigantic train of her taffeta gown. And the wood of trunks and branches emits moans. I’m starting to get a little scared. It gives me the feeling that I am not alone. Of course I’m not, I’m sure there are a lot of bugs around. Maybe they see me, but I don’t see them. I only hear them. Sometimes. Long silences almost make me more uneasy. Or when they seem to ‘answer’ each other.
And I remember my mother: “You’re going to be scared one day.” My rational mind ends up prevailing (strange thing) and I think that all the weird things I hear have a name and they don’t hurt anyone, it’s just that I’m at their ‘home’. I also think that I have nothing to fear and that if my grandfathers and grandmothers, from whom, unfortunately, I did not learn anything from these noises from the mountains, were alive, they would burst out laughing at my ignorance and my fears, because even the sound that it comes from a nearby pond gives me qualms. Is it some fearsome animal that has come to drink? No. They are just
amphibians, yes, at night they come alive. They go crazy.
I’ve had enough. So I begin, little by little, the return home, to the safety of its stones, its hundred-year-old beams and its closed gate… but along the way I hear something that makes my blood run cold, a lament that seems human. I think it has to be a
Fox who has come to the village to look for food”, I tell myself.
Actually, it is not the first time that I have heard it: one morning many years ago, being with the gang of friends from my youth by a bonfire, at dawn and next to the cemetery (again the cemetery, yes), we heard that ‘lament’ that came out of the darkness and we all started running with panic in our bodies (except for one brave man who grabbed a tree trunk like a troglodyte mallet and prepared to defend the group, although there was no longer a group, but several people fleeing shouting ‘every man for himself’). The next day, when we told our elders, there were loud laughs: ‘that’ was a fox, they assured us. These animals are becoming more trusting. Before, when there were chickens in all the houses, they were well fed, but now they have to scavenge in the garbage when hunger strikes and, sometimes, they end up crushed by a car, especially the young ones. And, yes, its sound is similar to that of a grieving woman or a baby… something that at night is even more eerie than the howling of a
Wolf. Why? Because the wolf is recognizable (although very few people have had the privilege of actually hearing it, not in documentaries), but the fox… it can be anything.
I pick up the pace, get home relieved and close the front door behind me. And I no longer know if I have said goodbye to the place or if the place has said goodbye to me. In your language, of course.
**This report has been prepared thanks to the private archives of the naturalist Carlos de Hita and some recordings of SEO Bird Life.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.