Animal Instincts

on September 13, 2010 in Misc

It’s late at night and I’m trying to concentrate, but the cicadas and crickets and whatever are making a bizarre noise outside my window.  For about ten minutes I’ve been trying to figure out why their rhythm and pitch keep reminding me of something ominous in a science fiction movie.

crows on wire

Then it hit me – that’s the sound from Contact.

You know the sound I mean:  a weird, two-tone pulsing that tells the scientists some kind of intelligent alien life is reaching out to touch us earthlings.  Those insects sound just like that right now.  It’s pretty distracting and loud enough to cover the faint noises someone like Layla might make while trying to climb or otherwise get into a building.

There’s no scene in The Compass Master in which Layla’s nocturnal movements are masked by nature’s noise.  But I might add cicadas to a critical scene because that could ratchet up the tension:  the noise would cover the footsteps of a bad guy who’s tailing her.  I first toyed with this idea a couple weeks ago when I took that compass and map reading class at REI.  The instructors held it outside on a grassy spot shaded by trees.  Trouble was there were cicadas in those trees and they were so friggin’ loud the instructors had to practically yell for us to hear them. 

Compass Map and Dividers.

In that same scene with Layla she uses a GPS and night vision goggles to navigate open land.  I figured such technology would be essential for anyone.  Then I read about certain natives in Australia and elsewhere who are raised with such an intense sensitivity to direction that by the age of seven they know instinctively where north, south, east and west are.  At all times, night or day.  Some of these people are so sensitive you can put them inside a building, cover their eyes with a blindfold, spin them around, and they can still point out north for you.  It’s like they’re human compasses.  They just plain can’t get lost because they’re so in tune with nature.

Layla’s not like that.  She needs her compass, her GPS, her maps and anything else ya got that can help do her job quickly and efficiently.  But maybe at some point in another book I can show her as such a keen observer of animals and natural settings that she knows how to read them for warnings or guidance. 

I’ve been in homes where crows or magpies have staked out their territory in the trees outside, and if a stranger walks up to the house they start cawing.  Yet the stranger never notices.  Who listens to birds these days?  I’ve been in landscapes where the prairie dogs or rabbits suddenly vanish because some kind of predator has appeared nearby.  Yet you still can’t see that predator, even if it’s a human one.  When I was young my parents had a sweet old dog named Fluffy who got along with everyone with the exception of one friend of my brother.  Fluffy hated, hated that guy, even though he never went near her.  Turned out her animal instincts were better than our human judgment because he proved to be scum.

bedoin alone

Layla has done work in the Middle East and I like to think that she has traveled with Bedouins (‘cause that’s what I wanna do).  A couple years ago I read a book written by a WWI soldier who went to live with Bedouins in North Africa rather than return to England after the war.  The extraordinary kinship these nomadic tribal families had with their natural environment was so keen they could look at half a footprint in the sand and the fig seeds near it and tell the soldier if a man or a woman had passed that way, how long ago, and what tribe he or she belong to.  In the middle of a vast desert they knew where their friends and enemies were and where life or death lay.  Wouldn’t it be cool to send Layla off on a desperate quest with people like that?  Get her away from technology and modern life and force her to fall back on her animal instincts and powers of observation. 

Note:  The insects outside my window have changed their tune and they’re no longer making that Contact noise.  Which is good because I was starting to freak out.

2 Responses to “Animal Instincts”

  1. Hart says:

    Oh, this is good! I think animal sounds are a GREAT way to ratchet tension… or to give away someone hiding (whether it is the good guy or the bad guy). I might take advantage of this idea too–it is something a city kid doesn’t think of first off, but in reality, those noises are always there (we have toads at night, and the other day I thought we had a really obnoxious bird, but it was a chipmunk) Oi! And don’t get me started on the murder that keeps appearing across the street! (murder of crows, I mean)

  2. Helena says:

    Hart – There really is something cool and ominous about crows. The first time I heard a Siamese cat in an alley, I thought it sounded like a crying, abandoned infant, which freaked me out and made me look for it.