Sonic Icons

Certain sounds bring you back to a place.

On a recent commute to work, I heard NPR advertising an upcoming show about rattlesnakes. They called these snakes the sonic icons of the West. I just love that.

I never thought about it before, but there are a lot of sonic icons in the world. Certain sounds bring you right back to a place. Sometimes I’ll go to Youtube to hear recordings of coqui frogs if I want to feel like I’m back in Puerto Rico. And I miss the crickets in the Eastern US. And there’s nothing quite like the hearing the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer in Istanbul echoing around the Bosphorus.

Many sounds, both natural and man-made, can be iconic. I love hearing crows purr during mating season. Fog horns and train whistles make me smile. I will never forget the sound of redwoods creaking and groaning in the wind in Northern California. Lawnmowers in the distance make me think of summertime. Morning birdsong in Seattle is completely different than morning birdsong on the East Coast. I love the sounds of cows lowing in a valley. I used to sit outside at night on my drawbridges in Florida and wait to hear the sound of the dolphins’ blow holes as they swam by. And to me, church bells sound like peace.

The idea of sonic icons delights me. I often wonder, when I’m blowing my horn on my drawbridge, if there aren’t people who enjoy that sound. I know there are people who complain about it. You never have people calling to say they love it. I know I love it.

What are your sonic icons?

Do you enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book!


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

8 thoughts on “Sonic Icons”

  1. My favorite sonic icon? The sustained DINGDINGDING warning that one or more of the iconic bascule (3) bridges and iconic vertical lift (2) bridges located about one-third mile from each other across the Willamette River between East Portland and Downtown Portland are getting ready to literally spring into action. Especially during high water conditions, in river order: Broadway (1913), Steel (1912), Burnside (1926), Morrison (1958), and Hawthorne (1910). When a big enough ship moves upstream, low water or high water, it’s a dinger of a party.

  2. The horn of a bridge, heard up to 2 miles or more away. The sling-screech of a huge trebuchet throwing a 10-pound pumpkin–the cords go well over 100mph. The lowest register of certain sirens (the high ones hurt.) The howling of the wind at the casement, or in some other part of one’s building that it happens to project the sound, if not the feeling. Various weird unidentifiable high-pitched cries from the nearby woods at night. And many more, but I must not leave out the purrs and meows of furry friends when I am lucky enough to spend time with them.

  3. As my vision diminishes (macular degeneration), sounds take on a vital role by helping paint a picture my eyes can no longer complete alone. One day sound will be my only eyes and I’ll have to hear the sound of a smile ,or a tear, in the tone of a persons voice that I might’ve missed with my eyes. .Maybe if we all shut our eyes and listen we could see better.

    The sound of a humans heart beat, a child’s giggle, a contented sigh. Delicate tinkling of wind chimes or the calm eerie silence in the eye of a hurricane or before the roar of a tornado. The distant clacking of a train and it’s mournful horn. Pond frogs croaking songs in the marsh nearby. The sound of Gaia’s heart beat, a frequency of 7.83 Hzt and this…

    1. Yes, the absence of sound can be iconic, too. I was once up in Mesa Verde and it was so quiet that when a raven flew past I could hear the flap of its wings. I’ll never forget that.
      And people who cannot see with their eyes “see” a lot of things the rest of us miss. Cold comfort, I’m sure, but interesting.

  4. Morning doves, that perch on my rarely used air conditioner, give my ears that treat as they come and go past my opened window. I wish I could get close enough to the humming birds, that feed on my hibiscus, to hear their wings hum.

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