Sounds like . . .

Kookaburra in my backyard

Kookaburra in my backyard

The flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week is all about sounds, specifically a sound that heralds change.

Of course I think immediately of the school sounds: the bells, buzzers or sirens that mark the beginning or end of a school session or day; children’s laughter in the playground interrupted by the cry over a scraped knee or elbow; the hush that overtakes the classroom when the teacher’s footsteps in the corridor announce her arrival; the monotonous chant of sounds parroted repeatedly as cards of letters are flashed in unrelenting sequence, marking the imposition of content-driven curricula where once were child-centred approaches and talk was king.

I think, too, of the sounds of nature that tell me of the changes in the day: the birds that sing outside my window heralding each new day – the kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, little corellas and koels; the rainbow lorikeets that chatter noisily telling me that evening is on its way; the screeching and whooshing of fruit bats as they wing their way across the darkening sky; the thud of a possum landing on the fence and the scratching of its claws as its scrambles from tree to tree under cover of the night.

Cockatoos looking for food, Hamilton Island

Cockatoos looking for food, Hamilton Island

We are fortunate in Australia that we don’t have a great number of large menacing animals terrorising our neighbourhoods. Sure dingoes, crocodiles and sharks may be scary but you don’t often come across them, and our most dangerous animals are more likely to be small and quiet and sneak up on you, like our spiders, snakes, jellyfish and ticks. There are no sounds associated with these to give you a warning.

That’s not to say there are no scary sounding animals. Any sound, if you don’t know what is making it, has the potential to be scary; as in this 99-word flash (memoir):

Awakened suddenly, I didn’t dare breathe. The sound was unrecognizable: guttural, movie theatre loud in surround sound. I sat up. The sound continued. I wasn’t dreaming.  I nudged Bob. No response. Gripped with fear but needing to know, I tiptoed to the window and peeked through the curtain slit. I expected to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was nothing. Now it came from the front, inside the house? My son! I tore down the hall. He slept peacefully! Back to the bedroom. Bob awoke. “Did you hear that?” he asked, wide eyes staring . . .

The following day I phoned the Queensland museum and attempted to explain what I heard. The fellow at the other end of the phone mimicked the sound exactly!! He identified it as a male brushtail possum warning others of its territory. These possums are very common in our area and I was amazed that I hadn’t heard this particular sound before. I hear it frequently now as every night they are moving about in the neighbourhood trees and running along our fences and roofs. I have never again heard it at the intensity of that first time, and now that I know what it is, it is no longer scary. In fact, possums are rather cute, as long as they are not living in your roof, eating the produce of your garden or stealing your Christmas puddings!

This video gives a hint of the brush tail’s sound I heard:

Another sound that I found quite unnerving at the time of first hearing was that of the mutton birds in the still of the night while we were holidaying on Heron Island, just off the Queensland coast at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. I had always thought the cry of the curlew to be quite eerie, but it didn’t match that of the mutton birds whose cry was more like that of the banshees.

I have written about this frightening experience in the following 99-word flash (memoir):

The boat tossed mercilessly. I battled to contain my insides while all around were losing theirs into little paper bags offered unceremoniously to obliging staff.

Finally, just before landfall, I joined in. Then it was over – for me. Bob’s queasiness laid him up for the night; but I went to tea.

The path back to the cabin was unlit but for a splash of moonlight. Suddenly horrific wailing assaulted my ears. Was Bob being murdered? I hurried back. He was fine, but the eerie sound unsettled us far into the night.

In the morning we laughed: mutton birds nesting!

I was fortunate to have not tripped and fallen as the mutton birds nest in burrows and these were dotted all over the island! Of course, once the source of the sound had been identified, we were no longer concerned.

While my two snippets of memoir don’t fit Charli’s criterion of fiction, they are about sound and I have used them to point to the power of education to change one’s situation. When the source of the sound was unknown, it was frightening. Once we knew what it was, it was no longer scary.

Knowledge is power. There is a saying, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you” but there is also another that says “What you don’t know won’t do you much good either”. I have written about this previously here.

Conspiracy theorists believe that those with power withhold knowledge from the masses (e.g. aliens are among us); but I believe that schools that favour test marks over individual development; content over creativity and critical thinking; and conformity over diversity are conspiring to contain the masses. One of the easiest ways to suppress and maintain control over others is to keep them ignorant. I am not suggesting that schools keep students ignorant, but they could do a lot more to maintain children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. I look forward to sounds that will herald positive changes in education.

 

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

 

 

28 thoughts on “Sounds like . . .

  1. Bec

    Hi Nor, what a delightful post! I loved both of your FF for this week. I’m also pleased you managed to share some audio clips of the culprits from both of the stories. Although Glenn and I were fortunate enough to see the mutton birds at Ocean Beach in Tasmania, I don’t recall their strange song. Here now in the new house, the kookaburras are the first birds I hear each morning – shortly before the sun starts to rise. They’re amazing and cacophonous, though I have on occasion played a game where I pretend I had no idea what the sound was, and try to imagine what I would think if it was my first time hearing kookaburras – in cold darkness. I can see why similar experiences with the possum and mutton birds led you to write about them !

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec,
      Thanks for joining in. Trying to imagine what you would think if hearing kookaburras for the first time is an interesting thing to do. At once time, it would have been the first time for all these sounds.Not all are scary though, just unfamiliar, but sometimes beautiful. I often wonder what the animals think of all our (human) manufactured sounds that fill the atmosphere! 🙂

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          1. Annecdotist

            This is brilliant. I think I saw the documentary on TV but it’s great to be reminded – including our national treasure David Attenborough.
            This bird’s capacity for imitating sounds made by machines made by humans reminds me of an art installation I saw a few years ago called Dawn Chorus in which birdsong had been recorded and slowed down then taught to singers and played back at the bird’s speed. Difficult to explain in words but here’s the link:
            http://www.picture-this.org.uk/worksprojects/works/by-date/2007/dawn-chorus

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            1. Norah Post author

              Yes, we like David Attenborough over here too!
              The Dawn Chorus is amazing! It is interesting to see the people’s chests moving in and out like the birds’ breasts when they are making the sounds. It would be interesting to hear what it sounded like when the birds were slowed down and the people were at normal speed to compare.
              Thanks for sharing this. )

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  2. Pingback: September 3: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch Communications

  3. Sherri

    Great post Norah, loved all the animal/bird sounds and your explanations behind them all, as well as your memoir flash pieces! There is something quite ethereal isn’t there about hearing these kind of sounds when we are alone at night. I’ve never heard a possum or those mutton birds. Spooky! I thought you might be interested in a post I wrote last autumn about my memories of moving to the rural countryside as a girl and being terrified of a demonic sound I heard from my bedroom window night after night. Here is the link to the post which explains what it was and the background to the story: http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2013/10/30/the-call-of-the-vixen-fox-and-a-handmade-halloween/
    You are so right Norah, knowledge is everything and keeping a child’s enthusiasm for learning, which after all should be lifelong, is paramount. Thank you for highlighting this very important issue in education.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sherri, Thanks for joining in and sharing the link to your post. I have just popped over and left a comment there. What a scary sound! A few others have added their scary sound experiences to this post so I am going to compile them into one post and share them together – including yours. I hope that is okay.
      Thanks for your support. 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        Hi again Norah! Sorry for taking so long to reply to your lovely comments, I’ve been away since Friday and only just now getting back on WP. I’ve just replied to your other lovely comment! Oh what a great idea, yes, absolutely please do use it, I look forward to your post!
        Great to connect here isn’t it? See you over at Carrot Ranch 🙂

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  4. lorilschafer

    Had a similar experience a while back. I typically wake up around five, when it’s still quite dark. Every morning before I got up, I would hear clumping sounds on the deck – something that was obviously too big and heavy to be a cat or a dog. The steps were also comparatively slow and plodding, unlike the way most suburban animals move – was someone walking through the backyard? One morning I woke up earlier than usual. I went into my office, which faces the hill behind the house, turned on my light, and heard the noises again, only much faster this time. I ran to the window to see if I could catch the critter – and was surprised to find a large male deer clattering across the deck. Evidently I had scared him as much as he’d scared me. What was really funny, though, is that he stopped coming after that. Seems he was willing to tolerate the unknown as long as he didn’t have to actually see any people – but once he’d caught a glimpse of me, he wanted no more part of my yard!

    In other words, I can totally relate. Loved both pieces, particularly the sentence “I battled to contain my insides…” 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Lori,
      That’s an amazing story too. Thanks for joining in and sharing it. There are a few wild deer living near here. People imported them to establish a farm for venison but the deer escaped and now roam between some areas of bush and a nearby golf course. Occasionally we see them crossing the road at night when we are driving that way. There is a sign at the side of the road warning of deer which, every December, somebody decorates like Rudolph! We find it quite amusing.
      I’m not sure that I would appreciate such a visitor to my deck, or even my yard though, as romantic as it may sound. I imagine they could do quite a bit of damage, even without trying.
      Geoff le Pard and Anne Goodwin have also added their animal tales. I think I’ll have to compile them all into one post. What a lively assortment!

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  5. TanGental

    Ha! You all have it tame. You should live in South London if you want out of control wild animals – and that’s just the parents trying to find somewhere to park to drop of little Johnny or Jemima at the primary school. I think using animal noises is great Norah – you perfectly captured the terror. When we were camping in Kakadu a while back (1998) I had to take the Vet (then aged 6) to the toilet block. As soon as we left the light by our tents it was beyond pitch dark. The insects were carrying on like a washboard orchestra and we were doing fine when a real Hound of the Baskervilles’ roar turned us to stone. I think I said a word she hadn’t heard before and we hurtled back to the tents. Our guide knew we would; he was in stitches. ‘Dingoes mate. Take my torch.’ Funnily enough the Vet no longer wanted to go!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Ha ha! What a great story – it think it goes perfectly with mine! And I can identify completely. I suppose I shouldn’t laugh. These stories weren’t funny at the time but they certainly are looking back. At least the possums and mutton birds of my stories are not any threat, but dingoes can be. I think the danger increases when they live close to humans who feed them. If Charli ever asks for a story about fright, you’ve already got your flash written. I love some of the language you have used in telling it: beyond pitch dark, washboard orchestra, Hound of the Baskervilles’ roar turned us to stone, hurtled. All very expressive, And I think I’d be like the Vet and change my mind about wanting to ‘go’. Camping in Kakadu sounds a very adventurous thing to do. I haven’t been up that neck of the woods yet.
      I totally agree with you about the parking behaviour around school zones at drop-off time. We have the same thing here!
      Thanks for joining in the discussion and adding your story to the mix. Perhaps we’ll have do do a joint ‘wild’ animal post and get Lori to join in with her deer tale!

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  6. Annecdotist

    Such a wealth of sounds here, but I love how you’ve taken the reader on a journey from the classroom out into the natural world and back again. I also loved the song – a great advert for your country ;). It reminds me of camping in the desert in Egypt with a couple of Australians. I was so naive, concerned about the insect life etc, but, as they pointed out, Egypt had nothing on Australia.
    Enjoyed both your bits of flash – some animal sounds can be quite unnerving but many are not once you identify the source. Here we have lots of birdsong if we’re lucky but there are only a few I can identify. I think mating animals can be particularly noisy. In the spring we can sometimes catch the frogs croaking away as they pair up on the pond and, out on the moors, now the mating season is upon us, I’m expecting to hear the motorbike-like roar of rutting deer.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your encouraging comment Anne. I’m pleased you enjoyed the advert. I didn’t really expect it to entice people to come to Australia!
      You’re right about the noises of mating animals. Even our gentle koalas can be very noisy! But the motorbike-like roar of rutting deer – that’s something I’d love to hear. Do they mate in autumn? It is autumn over there isn’t it? I think it spring here! Seasons can be so confusing! 🙂

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      1. Annecdotist

        I think it tends to be September/October which is autumn here. I was out on Sunday and saw a herd of about a dozen but all was very quiet. I was roughly in the area where this was recorded last year (not by me I hasten to add)

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        1. Norah Post author

          Anne, Thanks so much for sharing that! The sounds are amazing aren’t they? I can see why you likened it to the roar of a motorbike. I was thinking of that also, particularly the dirt bikes; at times a chainsaw or someone trying to start a lawnmower; then the final guttural sound tells it is clearly an animal! I don’t think you’d want to get in their way when they are going about their business. Are the deer ‘wild’ or farmed? I don’t see many wildlife shows about English animals so am not sure what there might be. I tend to think of the smaller hedgehogs, hares, moles and badgers.

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          1. Annecdotist

            I think they’re semi-wild. All the country estates used to have a deer park for hunting and there would be wild deer in the forests. I think these were the descendants of escapees from the nearby country park.

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            1. Norah Post author

              Estates for hunting reminds me of the famous fox hunts too. I have just checked with Google and have found that there are 6 species of deer living in Great Britain at the moment, 2 of which are native (the red and roe). Thanks for piquing my interest enough to follow up on that and learn something new! 🙂

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  7. Charli Mills

    Both flashes are excellent stories contained within 99 words. That they are memoir is fine; I think they are both creative pieces nonetheless. The prompt is meant to ignite an idea (and sound gave you two!) and the constraint is the real challenge. It really pushes your creative problem solving to express those ideas in a certain number of words. And actually getting to hear those sounds–I can understand why they were scary! But an excellent point about knowledge bringing understanding. When I told my daughter about all the wolf poop just beyond our place she explained to me that wolves are “big” on signs. They leave lots of evidence that makes their number seem larger. It was semi-comforting knowledge. And I look forward to those positive changes in education. Now what is that going to sound like? 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh boy! Wolf poop just beyond your place! See we don’t have to deal with stuff like that here! I don’t think I’d find knowing that wolves are ‘big’ on signs semi-comforting. How do you deal with living with them so close by? How did Sarah and Cob? You have mentioned encounters with bears too. Scary stuff – sounds or not!
      Thanks for your encouragement with my flash. I did enjoy the challenge of getting them to 99 words. I do enjoy the exercise.
      A positive change in education will sound like happy children!

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