A geographic feature of our property forms a natural amphitheater at the south end of our beach. We’ve known about it for a while, ever since noticing that passing whales were much more audible if they passed while we were up in the forest above the boathouse. A surfacing whale can startle us badly on the trail, as it sounds as if it’s right on top of us. A blast of exhalation that sounded as if it were right against the rocks would send us scrambling to the beach to watch a whale as it passed by more than a mile out in the water. Even after six years, it still causes a lot of confusion for us now and then.
Recently, as I processed a tree I’d felled for firewood, I heard voices over the music I listened to on my MP3 player. I removed my headphones and eavesdropped for a bit. A shouted conversation seemed to be taking place between sea and shore. This happens now and then, as kayakers or other boaters pass the homestead and stop to chat with us as we work in the yard or garden. I missed most of what was said; I saw a few kayakers go by beneath me, and planned to hear about the visit from Michelle when I returned home.
That evening, she never mentioned it. Finally, I asked her about the visitors, but she didn’t know what I was talking about. She had neither seen nor heard them pass. The “shouted” conversation I could hear so clearly from the top of the amphitheater had occurred between the kayaks as they passed.
The lowest tide of the year fell on the morning of May 7th this year, and we went down to the waters edge to look for sea stars, seaweed, and other treasures. As we moved up and down the beach, we heard a loon cry somewhere out on the water, too far out to be seen. A short time later, I heard the loon at close hand—somewhere behind me, higher up the beach! Michelle, who stood a couple of yards higher on the beach, heard it clearly too—beside her. The loon itself had probably not moved from its invisible position out on Lynn Canal. We’ve had far less experience with the amphitheater from its base than from its top.
I wish I possessed the acoustical knowledge to analyze the ampitheater’s features further, to perhaps calculate what distances can be heard best in what position. If granted enough time, maybe it’ll come eventually.