The soul of the Earth
The morning is crisp, clear, without wind, and resonant with sound. From every direction the drums and songs and calls, croaks and knocks and clucks of incipient spring ring through the forest. The oxbow lakes are glassy calm, lightly peppered with ducks and grebes. The silence is magnificently loud.
A sound like a herald announcing the arrival of a thunderbird splits the air: two resounding, sonorous blows, so close together that they are almost one, the second less than the first but still commanding. Astoundingly, the swamp does not even pause for a moment to acknowledge this imperial performance, as the chorus of a thousand lesser voices continues unswayed. This is nothing out of the ordinary to their ears.
A few moments later the atmosphere is cleaved again, precisely the same as before. The grand tattoo calls out from high in the canopy, amidst the filtered sunlight penetrating the still-leafless woods. The great bird is perched there, on a snag it has carefully chosen for its exceptional resonance. It surveys the audio landscape around it, listening with with the totality of its purpose in life for a reply -- any reply. Once again it delivers the paired blows with all the force it can muster, sending the message out across the landscape:
Hello? Is there anybody out there?
Once, this sound would have rung out throughout the swamplands. Not everywhere, not even the same places each year, but from snags and treetops across the land these blows would have been heard time and time again. And once, they would have been answered. In those days, they would have been perhaps the loudest sound to be heard in the forest other than the thunder itself, possibly second only to the drums of the native people. These fortissimo double blows were perhaps the defining sound of this place, the very voice of the land. And, in those days, the forests would have extended for mile after mile. Not unbroken, but still vast, varied, and ever-changing through the years of life, death, storm, flood, and fire.
But that was many generations ago, and this one bird has never known that world. Woodpeckers lack oral storytelling traditions. The world he lives in is the only one that has ever existed in his mind. He has never been a creature of vast virgin bottomlands. His world has always been made of fragments and patches and corridors. His life is the search for food wherever he finds it, same as all other winged beasts. His landscape has always been filled with countless other loud bangs, cracks, thumps, rumbles, and blasts, some of which dwarf even his best efforts. And his life has also always been one of solitude. Every spring he finds the great sounding trees, and fractures the morning with his primeval proclamation of "I am here!" And he listens, and listens, and listens, for the response. The rowdy silence engulfs him. No answer. One more time.
Is there anybody out there?