Water Music

The earth has its voices and songs. It has its own languages crafted over millennia through slow and patient processes, its dialects peculiar to geological regions or areas of weather, to places of particular precipitation. The earth has its voices and songs just as we have our own, a music born of place, notes threaded together by winds and tides, by land and water.

Avalanches thunder across steep slopes and reeds crackle in the cold like old bones. Rocks tumble into canyons, a distance measured by a long receding echo of stone hitting stone that becomes fainter as it falls. Grasses whisper with the wind, a restless conversation moving through a meadow. Trees sigh in a storm and dry leaves rattle across parched earth. Seedpods snap open in the sun. Rains fill a jungle with the beats of a million drums. Even the silence of snow is a song, in the same way that John Cage’s 4”33 is a song, something rich and articulate, a compressed aria of the sounds around us we so easily miss.

Ice covers the small lake this winter. It wears a shawl for the season as though it were suddenly ageing with grey beauty. Some days channels of black water open and close on it like eyes blinking against the light, while on others the ice borrows a speckled sheen that resembles the cryptic plumage of birds that nest in its reeds. And on some days the ice is masked by cloud, shrouded by fog or mist that unrolls like a dream after waking. Then the lake is only there in your ears.

The music is haunting and beautiful, shifting in ethereal and unknowable ways from one day to the next. There are songs that could come from a lost tribe of sea creatures stranded beneath the ice, a moaning and wailing from the depths. Sonar pulses rise through the cold winds, composed into a suite of strange and otherworldly sounds. The music can resemble water that is boiling, bubbling up in a pan the size of the lake. Or it might pop and ping, tinkle like ice cubes in a glass. There are days when it could be a xylophone being played, a cold fiesta on the frozen surface. The music is as varied as the shapes that water can take.

Leaving the lake behind for another day I see snow moving across the ice like a line of dancers dressed in white, a choreography of wind, a sinuous sweep that echoes the cold front pushing down from the north. It is the lake’s equivalent of the village festivals that roar through the summer nights, the wild blaring trumpets and irrepressible dances that turn in a circle to mark a season of plenty. The lines of snow weave and wend over the ice, like ghosts moving to the music from below, celebrating the voices of winter, hearing the songs of the world.

28 thoughts on “Water Music

  1. So incredibly lovely and inspiring… a musical composition itself, and you a word musician. I love the contrast between “suite of strange and otherworldly sounds” and “pop and ping, tinkle like ice cubes in a glass” — you know just when to pause in the symphony and give us a little of the triangle or piccolo! Beautiful, as always. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Jenny. Delighted you heard some music in the words like I’m able to listen to the lake these days. And thanks for your own generous words and compliments in describing them as a symphony with a hint of triangle and piccolo. It put a smile on my face this morning…hope all is well with you and your words also!

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  2. So nice to find another lovely piece. For a month now we are hearing the unusual sound of rain on the window panes, the dripping of water from the roof gutters to the ground. The rains are lasting hours at a time, sometimes waking us up at night and we go back to sleep relieved we are finally getting a healthy dose of rain. We go out to our farm on the weekend and yes, the pond is back up…not where it needs to be, but at least it’s not empty. What a lovely sound, the rain this past month.

    1. Love the sound of the endless rain you describe so well, Georgette. Weather has a way of burrowing within us, becoming not only a part of our day but a part of our thinking. Your rain song must be wonderful to listen to; I can sit back here with so outside my windown and hear it through your words. Thanks for sharing the sounds…

  3. I could never tire of your writing. I always hear it as music and with this one the symphony was directed by your descriptions.

    I once lived on the Bow River that runs through Calgary. In the middle of the city the river could not compete with the roar and clang of traffic. But in the spring when the metres-thick layer of ice suddenly lifted and broke into gigantic standing and tilted shards under the deluge from meltwater, the screams and monstrous howls dominated the city, which seemed to quiet itself in humility.

    Must go find a lake to listen to now.

    1. Thanks, Cindy; I never tire of the lovely way you describe my work! Marvellous anecdote about the Bow River and its power to rise above the sounds of the city. The meltwater season is an immense testament to the natural world’s music and elemental energies, and I think we’re in for a heck of a one here, whenever it comes. Thanks for sharing these other songs and for all your interest. Hope your listening was rich…

  4. Thanks for that evocative reminder of winter’s glorious symphony..Amidst the overwhelmingly human noise of north India I feel the yearn, after reading this piece,to hear the whisper of grass,the sigh of winter wind..

    Much love
    Sid

    1. Thanks, Sid! I can hear those northern Indian plains, and still remember them and how evocative I found them all those years ago: intense, bewildering, exciting. But not so many whispers…hope all is well there.

      Much love from here,
      J.

  5. Beautiful piece. I once had an unusual experience in Colorado. A friend and I were walking in the woods, when we heard music; like a band was playing somewhere deep in the woods. We were awestruck, and decided to follow the sound. We were lead to a rushing creek, where water was falling over huge boulders; the sound then changed to white noise the closer we got to the site. I’ve always wondered how that happened, and if anyone else has ever experienced this.

    1. “…a band playing somewhere deep in the woods.” Thanks for sharing this marvellous story of water, and how it is constantly shifting. That great, echoing noise of water off stone is one known to many of us I think, but this lovely other sound like music in the woods is certainly new to me. Though having listened to the lake this winter, and its differing melodies, I wouldn’t be surprised by the kinds of music that water is capable of making. Many thanks for the compliment, Monica, and for stopping by to read. As well as for subscribing; it’s greatly appreciated.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  6. I love the words you use to describe the music you are listening to this winter in your part of the world. The photos are striking…

    “The earth has music for those who listen.”
    ~ William Shakespeare

    1. Thanks ever so much, Barbara! You always find a perfect quote for the occasion, and I greatly appreciate your kind words. Hope there’s been music in your winter as well.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  7. Reading this Julian, I’m amazed at my ignorance about the climate of Greece . After soaking in the words and images of this post, I trotted off to Google to learn more about the climate of the Prespa Lakes area in northern Greece. I learned that it is a micro climate that is quite different from our notion of Greek weather.

    I can understand this concept well. Here in Eastern Passage I live one kilometer from the Atlantic Ocean. When other areas are buried under snow, we often are getting rain. I’d rather have the rain.

    1. Thanks, Sybil! Until we saw the book that inspired our move here we didn’t have a clue about the climate in this part of the country either. Let’s just say that it’s a long way from the Greece of the imagination! There is a microclimate around the lakes, that’s true, but the effect that it has is to keep our summers cooler and the winters warmer than the surrounding region!! Although the small lake is frozen completely it’s been nowhere near as cold or snowy in Prespa compared to places only 20 kilometres away. There it’s far more serious. The factors that affect us, other than the microclimate, are really the fact that Prespa is as far north as you can go and still be in the same country, and the altitude. The lakes are 850 meters above sea level, and our village is at 1000 metres. But this year the snows and cold have reached the golden beaches of Greece as well, unlike Eastern Passage! Hope you’re enjoying your winter, and many thanks for the comment. Much appreciated!

  8. Wonderful Julian, really enjoyed this and so beautifully written and loved the photos, I could really just visualize it even though I have never seen nor experienced such beauty! May seem silent but you truly brought this lake to life and I am sure you are enjoying every moment of this enchanting winter and ofcourse the Prespa Lake.
    Thank you so much
    Silvana van Engelen

    1. Thanks ever so much, Silvana! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed these words and photos, and it’s a delight to hear that they brought some sense of this winter music to you. Likewise I love learning about Malta from your own images, a place that now exists more clearly in my mind.

      Thanks again for the kind words, and best wishes from here,
      Julian

  9. I finally had time to sit down and enjoy this properly. It’s beautiful, Julian and evokes the sighs, groans and bubbles of my own lake, currently encased in ice. It has always felt like a living thing, its icy skin rising and falling with its steady breath.
    Thanks for reminding all of us about the endless symphony that is the natural world, coupled with your starkly beautiful images.

    1. Thanks, Heather! A delight to hear from you and so pleased you liked the post. I think you’re spot on about a lake, or any body of water, being a living thing, with its moods and characters. Constantly in motion, shifting from one state to another. Hope you’ve been able to spend some time around your lake this winter, and not all of it in the city. Though there’s music everywhere, I imagine you’d prefer to hear the songs of the lake. Cheers, and thanks again!

  10. A cold front that sways and dances…it’s been raining all day and I can hear its gray slippers outlining a chilly ballet.

    This was so lovely – I only regret reading this so late!

    1. Late or not, it’s a delight to read your comment, Aubrey! And the lovely music of your “chilly ballet” that accompanies it. Thanks kindly, and hope all is well amidst the swaying and dancing…

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