They told me I was deaf, but I didn’t believe them. The music was always there. Always strongest at the sunrise, bending the ancient colors of the sky until they were inside me.
I knew sound as I saw it. The yellow sap of cedar trees sang directly into me, gave all the essence of its life into watery sound. I breathed it in, along with rain-soaked wind.
Everywhere I went, the music followed. My parents shined their eyes on me, assured me I was just like Beethoven; composing entire symphonies in our heads, neither of us able to hear them. I tried once to write the music down, but, unlike Beethoven, I’d never heard outside my head. Notes were meaningless without knowing their sound. And instruments were nothing more than pretty things to touch.
My music must have been incomparably unique, unbounded by influence. But no one else would ever listen to it. It belonged only to me and the forest.
Nothing made me happier than dogwood flowers. It meant the sun would soon touch the top of the maple trees, that turkey vultures would paint distant circles in the afternoon clouds.
One summer night when the air was hot I spread my sleeping bag out next to a patch of salmon-berries. Along the river, where the trees thinned, I watched the water darken.
Then the stars sang. Lyra, Corona Borealis, Ursa Major. None could ever rival Venus, nor match the voice that sprang with it from the horizon. All of it came in darts, accompanied by the milky way’s steady pulse. I laid upon the bare ground, forgetting my sleeping bag. Eyes constantly stroking the sky, I let the leaves cluster in my hair. Beneath me was all the curve of the Earth, and I could feel it hum.
Throughout the night I kept my eyes open. I absorbed the swinging lobes of the world above me. Felt the breeze finally cool. In the morning I could still hear it, all of it. Lingering on the bird’s faces. Resting upon the dry fragrance of the soil.
It wasn’t until I went away to college that the music ever ceased. I had no choice but to go to the city. And there, concrete muffled any sound. In long winds after the full moon I could feel music start, sometimes. But it wasn’t joyous, nor did it ache. All I felt was numbness. Cold. So I brushed it away.
Each day another melody dimmed. I had never lived in silence before, and I feared it.
With my hands I could speak, though not everyone understood. I was known only as the deaf girl, softly pitied from afar. Through the window of my dorm room I could see buildings, cars. I was keenly aware that there was no earth beneath my feet.
But there were good things, too, about school. A month into the first term a friend asked me on a road trip to the coast. Her brother was deaf, and she knew how to sign. I hadn’t been to the beach for many years. It had been so long, in fact, that I’d forgotten what it sounded like.
We drove through forests, over hills. I rested my forehead against the car window and watched the branches of douglas firs. Ferns, fallen logs, walls of moss. Just like my forest. My chest opened, music rising. It grew louder, louder. Around a bend we wove until… there it was. The ocean. That beautiful plane of water that sang in deep, eternal sighs.
Never had I heard grander music. Then I knew. It was all the world singing.
By the time we’d reached the water, the rain had come. As it piled over us, I slid my feet into the freezing ocean. Droplets of sea and sky rested on my eyelashes.
In the rain I heard my forest. I listened to the river’s smooth currents. I heard the alder trees bow in the wind.
There was something deeper than memory in which I could carry the music. Something nameless. I would forever be connected to the forest. It had raised me. Sung to me. Given me ears.
While the sun was buried beneath the waves, we sat in the sand. Every string of the sky was red. The opposite of the sunrise, but just as sweet.
Any numbness fell away. It was as though I had never even left the forest.
In all ways it had become a part of me.
Previously published in the 2013 issue of The Ecotone Journal of Environmental Studies