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Country sounds

Columnist Shannon McKinnon talks about the not-so-quiet sounds of nature.

A lot of people choose the country life because they crave quiet. They want to experience life far from screeching tires, honking horns and the neighbour’s lawnmower ripping to life at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. And it’s true. Country life is pretty quiet but it isn’t without noise. It’s just a different kind of noise.

Our newest neighbours, whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, have a donkey. While I can’t see their house from our place and I have never seen the donkey, I can hear its heehawing.

Just like it’s impossible to listen to the howl of a wolf without hairs standing up on the back of your neck, it is impossible to hear a donkey bray without breaking into a smile.

Some of our neighbours like to do a little target practicing, so every once in a while the afternoon explodes with a battery of shots ringing out across the fields. Others have cattle and their mooing takes me back to my childhood and the ranch I grew up on. On summer evenings there is the occasional wound-up moo of a cow with a full udder calling for her calf. That one doesn’t sound anything like the generic moos people are used to hearing from children’s books or cartoons.

The cow sucks in her breath and wails forth with a series of high pitched screeching calls. If you hadn’t spent time around cattle you would never guess the noise had a bovine source. You would instead find the sound every bit as terrifying as a wolf howl. No wonder the calf comes running! Whenever I hear the mothers calling in their calves I find the sound comforting instead of alarming.

We make our own contribution to the neighbourhood noise, thanks to our roosters. There is a misconception that roosters only crow to greet the dawn, but unfortunately that isn’t true. Roosters do crow to greet the dawn, but they also crow at lunch time, they crow in the afternoon, they crow in the evening and if you get home late and have to close up and gather eggs with a flashlight in hand, they will crow at you then as well. With two of them on the place they hardly ever leave off egging each other on.

And then there is the wildlife; woodpeckers furiously stabbing at the bedroom wall at 4 a.m., coyotes howling on and off throughout the night, a robust evening chorus of frogs and the throaty shriek of a blue jay as the sun breaks over the eastern hills followed by a cacophony of assorted birdsong.

A few summers ago we had a couple staying with us who had never spent a night in the country before. They arrived fresh from the city, waxing poetic about the chance to see stars and soak up the sounds of silence. When the coyotes started to howl they were so unsettled it took them hours to get to sleep. When the roosters awoke them at dawn they were charmed. When they kept crowing they confessed to fantasizing about chicken soup. The woodpecker tapping outside their bedroom window followed by the arrival of the blue jay and then a bevy of songbirds, sent them stumbling bleary eyed down the stairs in search of coffee.

In the afternoon they set off for a hike in the woods that back onto our house.

I took advantage of the break in visiting to pull some weeds in the garden. In the distance I listened to a cow calling in her calf and then to the sounds of someone commencing target practice. Humming happily to myself I pulled up a particularly fat dandelion that had managed to go for weeks unnoticed beneath the skirts of a cranesbill geranium. The sun felt warm upon my back and the song of a nearby robin kept me company. I felt a rush of sympathy for our friends, stuck in the city with all that noise.

A few minutes later I heard an unfamiliar crashing sound. The couple exploded into the garden on the run. Not only were they being shot at, they gasped, but some sort of horrific beast was on the prowl, shrieking its outrage as it pursued them through the woods. When I explained that it was just the neighbours target practicing and a cow calling for its calf they looked skeptical and then exasperated.

“Peace and quiet my left eyeball! I don’t know how you country people get any rest. It’s all so noisy and stressful,” the wife burst out, while the husband vigorously nodded his agreement. “I can’t wait to get back to the city where we can relax.”

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting