The past couple of weeks saw warmer than normal temperatures and rain so whatever snow is left is hard-packed and icy with many bare spots showing through. Even though the days have been sunny, yesterday and today were quite cold, with temperatures in the single digits at night. Little Pond, the bog which sits at the bottom of our driveway, is frozen over.
Yesterday I experienced perhaps the most unusual natural phenomena ever in all my years in Maine.
Around sunset I decided to take the dog for a quick walk. As we reached the bottom of the driveway, I heard a strange, unearthly noise unlike any noise I’d ever heard before, coming from the pond. As I stopped to listen – – the air was completely still with no other signs of life nor sounds nearby in the vast, bleak emptiness – – the noise came and went in odd spurts, sometimes in a crescendo, sometimes sounding like a low, ghostly howl; knocking; moaning and groaning; at other times like the crack of a whip as it traveled across the pond. I strained my eyes but could see no activity above the water. At first I thought it might be the sound of beaver activity under the ice. But the sporadic sounds came from different locations in the pond: first near me, then the opposite shore, then the far end, and other times from the middle, etc. There was no pattern nor rhythm, and the sounds varied. I can’t honestly describe them – – they were unsettling, and ominous, and ghoulish, and other-worldly. My dog was terribly afraid by these noises – – he refused to walk further and returned to the bottom of our driveway, planting himself firmly there, refusing to budge and anxiously waiting for me to follow him home. I walked to different parts of the pond’s edge but did not get any closer to solving the mystery. Instinctively, I felt it was some sort of underwater noise or signaling — since I couldn’t pinpoint its direction or source I still wasn’t sure if the noises were emanating from above or beneath the ice – – but how? Why? What did this mean? And why, with my daily ventures to the pond over the past 5 years at all times of day and night, in good weather and bad, had I never heard these sounds before?
(This is actually one of the things I love so much about my life in Maine. There is always something new to experience and to learn, to see and hear and feel. It’s a near constant explosion of sensory awareness, providing that one is patient and receptive and can slow down enough to be open to it. And when I slow down, I mean really slow down: I find a spot, close my eyes, and take several deep cleansing breaths. Then I consciously work on breathing deeply and quietly and slowly, and open my eyes. By now I feel my heartbeat has slowed. My blood pressure is low. My muscles are relaxed. I concentrate deeply on listening and seeing and on each of my senses individually, only allowing them to integrate when I feel I’ve absorbed each sense at a high level of awareness. I may stay in a single spot for fifteen or twenty minutes, or as much as an hour (and by then my dog is usually fully bored and exasperated with me, sighs, and lays down on the ground in surrender). I guess some people would call this a form of meditation, but I’ve never studied meditation and I don’t really know much about it. But it is during these periods of concentration and alertness that I’ve been especially successful in observing Nature. And it never, ever gets old.)
After searching on the Internet, I finally found the sound that I had heard earlier in the day at Little Pond: “dispersion of sound waves in ice sheets.” It is an unusual phenomena that has many people scratching their heads. The sounds were described by others as “creepy” and “eerie” so I was in good company. I’ve provided some links below so you, too, can get a taste of the unusual.
Creepy sounds in St. Paul MN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOngbi8UQ9s
A frozen lake in Berlin, Germany (with a great explanation of the phenomena): http://silentlistening.wordpress.com/2008/05/09/dispersion-of-sound-waves-in-ice-sheets/