Listening to Transpiration
On the banks of the Helford River, in a copse called Scott’s Wood, a pair of beech trees and a single ash form a trio that hug the hill as it rises away from the river. It is a bright and warm summer’s day, with a persistent steady breeze – I arrived to listen to these trees during their customary conditions. The mature trees lean into the sloping field at an accommodating angle caused by a lifetime of being buffeted by the wind.
The sylvan sound is multi-layered and complex, dominated by a grumble, low and bass-y, the stuttering of a tired old engine. There’s pace and driving rhythm to the sound as if the grumble could bubble up, out and over its confined ash-trunk-cell space. It pushes up against its confinement, into my listening space, with weight and purpose, presence and density. It has the texture of a boiling pot of gravel. It chafes and confronts my ears.
The source is the wind pushing the tree this way and that, creating vibrations right down the trunk to where we are holding the Tree Listening Device* up against the bark at waist height. In this moderate breeze it is possible to see the skinnier branches move about in the wind, but it is through listening that we can hear movement within its trunk.
The less dominant, yet nonetheless present sound is a light, high, crackling pop. It has the same drive and consistent pace as the grumble, but bobs up on top of the bass, like the fizz escaping over the ice cubes in a glass of lemonade. It’s a trickier sound to pick out, as its delicateness dances away from the ear, escaping from the listening grasp.
*Tree Listening Device designed and made by Alex Metcalf: www.treelistening.co.uk
18th August 2018
Scott’s Wood, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall