Sparking and Booming

February 2, 2012

“The chewink sang before night, and this, as I have before observed, is a very common bird on mountain-tops. It seems to love a cool atmosphere, and sometimes lingers quite late with us. And the wood thrush, indefinitely far or near, a little more distant and unseen, as great poets are. Early in the evening the nighthawks were heard to spark and boom over these bare gray rocks, and such was our serenade at first as we lay on our spruce bed. We were left alone with the nighthawks. These withdrawn bare rocks must be a very suitable place for them to lay their eggs, and their dry and unmusical, yet supramundane and spirit-like, voices and sounds gave fit expression to this rocky mountain solitude. It struck the very key-note of the stern, gray, barren solitude. It was a thrumming of the mountain’s rocky chords; strains from the music of Chaos, such as were heard when the earth was rent and these rocks heaved up. Thus they went sparking and booming, while we were courting the first access of sleep, and I could imagine their dainty limping flight, circling over the kindred rock, with a spot of white quartz in their wings. No sound could be more in harmony with that scenery. Though common below, it seemed peculiarly proper here. But ere long the nighthawks were stilled, and we heard only the sound of our companion’s breathing or of a bug in our spruce roof. I thought I heard once faintly the barking of a dog far down under the mountain, and my companion thought he heard a bullfrog.

A little after 1 A. M., I woke and found that the moon had risen, and heard some little bird near by sing a short strain of welcome to it, somewhat song-sparrow-like. But every sound is a little strange there, as if you were in Labrador. Before dawn the nighthawks commenced their sounds again, and these sounds were as good as a clock to us, telling how the night got on.”

— H.D. Thoreau, Journal entry for June 2, 1858

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