A shot in the dark —
I wrote this post a few days ago in the rainforest, a world away from the internet. The seed was planted two weeks earlier after spending an evening watching and listening to acoustic recordings of nighttime bushmeat hunting. A few days ago I lay sweating in the black of the Ebo rainforest night when a shotgun blast tore through the forest and ripped me from other thoughts. My beautiful rainforest nights were forever changed.
Crack, pop, and the sound trails away, far into the dark of the night….
Seen another way a sharp violent line on an acoustic graph rockets off the top and equally beyond the bottom of the frequency scale, it returns with a fractional dip and then widens again, before trailing off in a narrowing slope, distilling into a line…
It’s that silence that lingers the loudest. It’s that silence that haunts me. That heart wrenching point where the lines become as my old mathematics teacher would say, a series of points lined up end-to-end without modulation, without deviation. In this case, without life…
Looking at the computer screen it’s so much easier to abstract and analyze. Everything feels so… actually, that’s the point, it doesn’t feel. There is no feeling to the graph. It doesn’t reflect the moment in its entirety. Let me begin again.
Crack, pop, and the sound trails away…. Silence.
Before that moment the night-time rainforest was anything but silent. It was alive. The nocturnal forest was a celebration, a truly poetic use of the word cacophony. More than just noise, an organic orchestral work of acoustic art: Hundreds, thousands of insects vibrated in multi-tonal synchronicity; something bird-like started low like a bassoon with slow notes, space carefully, and then grew, ascending into a series of rapidly repeated notes, finally crescendoing, only when no breath was left,… long pause, and it began anew; frogs added their toots, and chirps, and clicks, many more mechanical sounding than living; and there were screams, mammalian, like someone just stepped barefoot on a thorn; and amongst them all, unheard, there were soft snores and gentle hearts rhythmically pulsing in slumber. Cameroonian Rainforest Nocturne is not a symphony of silence.
The nighttime tropical rainforest into which the bushmeat hunter wades is a sea of sound, and little light. The claustrophobic canopy ensures no navigation by the stars—even on moonlit nights what little filters in only casts dark-shaped monochrome confusion. The hunter enters with little but torch and purpose.
In that last second before the caustic first ‘crack’ the hunter aims with abandon not accuracy, he lets the dozens of shotgun pellets define their target. Just as the sharp violent line rockets off the graph, so too the chimp’s sleeping heart floods with adrenaline. But before its brain can interpret the nightmare, raise the alarm, the pellets are tearing through leaves, and ripping through silhouetted twigs and moss and fruits. The tiny spheres of steel shred the night forest and kill the symphony, but their journey is not over. Only when they rip through the carefully arranged nest leaves do they near the end. Few of all pellets complete the journey, but it takes only a few. Death’s dozen cut and gash and slash their way into the now awakened chimp, the race has been lost, bullets have beaten the brain.
What sound comes next never reaches the recorder, never appears on the graph, the ‘pop’ has already trailed away, only the hunter hears what comes next as the dying body hits the forest floor — whoooosh, life exhales into the humid tropical night. The line shows no modulation, it’s now without deviation.
2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo