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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Home Ground: The Language of Landscape

Air Date: Week of

Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. (Trinity University Press)

In our continuing series on language of the American landscape from the book "Home Ground," edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, author D.J. Waldie defines the term "singing sand."


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.

[MUSIC: Home Ground Theme - Oh Marie.]

GELLERMAN: From time to time - we dip into a book called "Home Ground" where you’ll find definitions for unique features of the American landscape. Writer D. J Waldie has one for people who couldn’t carry a tune even if it was in a bucket.

WALDIE: Singing sand. Sand falling from the crest of a dune can produce sounds that have haunted desert travelers for millennia. In the past, the sound was likened to the strumming of a lute, the muttering of immensely deep voices, or the crashing of waves on an invisible shore. Later, the sound was compared to cannon fire or armies in battle.

Today, the loudest booming is said to sound like the passage overhead of a squadron of propeller-driven aircraft. All of these sounds are caused by an incompletely understood interaction of wind, humidity, and the geometry of individual grains when a sheet of sand with the right properties slumps from a dune’s crest. Booming sands are relatively uncommon, but they can be heard at Sand Mountain near Fallon and Big Dune near Beatty, both in Nevada, and at the Kelso Dunes near Kelso, California.

Unique barking sands can be found on the west coast of Kaua’i, Hawai’i. Unlike booming sands, which produce a wide range of low-frequency sounds, some sands produce a single tone that has been variously described as squeaking or whistling. Walking on or shifting these musical sands produces a very short, high-frequency sound. Squeaking sand may be found at many beaches, lakeshores, and riverbanks around the United States.

[MUSIC: Michael Rogers “Sea Shells And White Sand from Magnetica (Catapult Records 2010).]

GELLERMAN: D.J. Waldie lives in Lakewood California, and is author of: “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.” His description of singing sand comes to us from the book "Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape" edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.




Home Ground


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