I have found it hard to accept that I will never hear my late husband's voice again. Though nearly everything can be found archived on the Internet, there's not a clip, not one recording of him speaking. Of my late father's voice, I have a cassette from 1976. Recorded for my grandparents, miles away in Montana, is the sound of me talking as I open Christmas presents, my dad and I singing "Rudolph." For years after his death, I would sit in my truck and mouth memorized answers to decades-old questions. But I sold the truck, the tape deck with it. I had Dad's voice transferred to MP3 but now twice removed, it's not the same.
I can describe my childhood in sound. Cartoon jingles, the front room drapes closing, sprinklers on the lawn. 56 KLZ-AM Country coming from the kitchen, interrupted only by the oven timer's racket that let us know the cinnamon rolls were done.
Outside was another soundtrack. One that connected me to wonder. Helped me to sleep. Even as an infant, the window had to be open, just a crack, that I might hear the night sound. A symphony composed of wind, river, the shiver of deciduous leaves. A dog's bark meant deer or skunk. A thunderclap signaled rain. Come morning, I woke to robins. Meadowlark. Mourning doves calling from the cottonwood. The buzz of mosquitoes.
The Salmon River Mountains are teaching me a new soundscape. Though it is still the robins' cheerily cheer up that greets my summer mornings, I've also learned the crick of the Western tree frog, scratch of osprey and mimicry of Steller's jay. I know the sound of wind soughing through the tall ponderosa whose limbs gather snow that, when they let it go, will thud hard on this cabin's metal roof. And though I startled the first few times I heard it, I now listen with aplomb.
Even as an infant, the window had to be open, just a crack, that I might hear the night sound. A symphony composed of wind, river, the shiver of deciduous leaves.
When I first moved to Idaho, nights were beaded with the music of coyotes. Hearing the yips and howls glide through the open window comforted me the same way hearing my parents murmuring at the breakfast table comforted me as a child. Just as my parents' voices assured domesticity, the coyote song assures me of wildness. Reminds me that beyond the pandemic, jobs, bills and deadlines, there is a much deeper life, one that has and continues to nurture us all. The one that sustains all sound.
There is no coyote song in my nighttimes now. No fox gekkering either. The high nest that held the baby ospreys first cries is gone. The snag will be felled. The old pine's a risk to the increasing number of people driving Highway 55. I often wonder if sound is held in the rings of trees. If so, in this one would be chittering of chipmunk, sigh of a buck deer rubbing velvet from his antlers, caws and hoots, and perhaps, because of its centuries, the sound of its first name, spoken by the Nimiipuu.
I understand the ephemerality of human life. I can reckon with knowing I will never again be unraveled by my late husband's whisper. And though technology can do much, it cannot take me back to 1976 or bring my father to 2022. But there are new voices, new whispers. Laughter from my partner and the putter of the snowblower. Sounds I invite into my room when I ask students to leave their mics on. Humansong. Sounds that connect us to one another, even from afar.
But what about the wild song? The one issuing from the throat of the land. From coyote, fox, and osprey. From the golden beaks of songbirds. Just as a recording of his voice cannot replace my dad, a sound clip of a howl cannot replace the coyote. We need this wild soundtrack to assure us that we are still connected to the land, still part of this great, wild wonder. We need it to remind us that we are merely one of the earth's voices in a choir that depends on every voice to survive. That when we open that winter window, the only sound won't be our own, that our howl won't be the answer to whose life ends when those wild songs are no longer heard? ♦
CMarie Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate 2020) and co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019). She has published poetry and nonfiction in multiple journals including Emergence Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, Cutthroat a Journal of the Arts, Whitefish Review, Platform Review, Poetry Northwest, as well as several anthologies. Fuhrman resides in the mountains of West Central Idaho.