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Dodge Cove Soundwalk

I recently led a sound-walk with the community of Dodge Cove, a fishing hamlet in the North Coast of British Columbia.  It was a calm and overcast Saturday afternoon as we assembled outside the community hall. A sizeable portion of Dodge Cove’s 60-odd residents moved here after long careers out on the coast. Fisherfolk, navigators, and DFO employees – they were drawn in by the calmer waters, bucolic feel and ideal proximity to the staples of a mid-sized town (Prince Rupert). But over the last 5 years,  an increase in industrial activity owing to the containerization of Prince Rupert port has radically redrawn the boundaries of town and country. North Coast winds can send sound-waves bouncing across water  over great distances. Mt. Hays at the rear of the Rupert port makes for a natural amphitheatre – redoubling the clank and boom that enters into Dodge Cove living-rooms.  Here, then, where rich terrestrial and marine life still abounds, nature’s acoustical-mediation can make for a wildly shifting and unpredictable experience.

We started down Dodge Cove Rd., boots scraping the gravel of the only street in town. There were kingfishers, ravens, and mallards out, but the air was unusually still – and notably absent of the sounds that had so concerned people. After about ten minutes, we turned toward CBC Hill – named for the signal-bearing antennae at its peak – and our footsteps were muted in moss and wet bark.  As we ascended the trail, the occasional bird announced itself through the  air.  Nearer to the summit, a low hum began to creep towards us.  We emerged into tall-grass and acoustic space, first contracted by the rainforest, suddenly exploded. We were surrounded by the port – its rumbling fields of infrasound. There were engines, horns, and a dull thud of containers being lifted off ships. I passed my headphones around: Faces were horrified and fascinated by the additional detail the gain was revealing.

As retraced our steps, people appeared more at ease. Still silent, still listening, they paused to pick mushrooms, or graze hands across leaves. After about 20 minutes we were back at the community hall, beers cracked open, and discussing the experience. There had been recent reports of Grizzly Bears in Dodge Cove. John, who brought his shotgun, explained why he began humming aloud at one point: “You just need to let them know that you’re there, that’s all they need.” A few people – Carol, Wendy – noted the audible lack of herons, whose population has starkly diminished population  in recent years.  Others spoke directly about the noise (“it just pounds into you”) but Ellen noted a comfort acquired by listening with others.  “The sound became more cozy” she explained. This brought to mind the question of facilitating true forms of community listening; as in how? What defines collective listening in contradistinction to atomistic collectivities of individual listeners?  We ruminated until about 6pm, at which time the sun  finally announced itself, and begun its dip into the tree-branches. I gathered up the beer-cans, said goodbye, and went down to the boat for my ride home.

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