Luellen Lake, a remote yet accessible lake in Banff National Park, is a grand setting to enjoy Kit Dobson’s Field Notes on Listening (Wolsak & Wynn). This book of poetic, personal non-fiction essays is concerned with what it means to listen to environments in an extended manner. So, get your bug net on, brew up a mug of camping coffee, set up a hammock between the spruce trees, and settle in for some reading.
It is mid-July, and this year’s snowpack is still melting in the Rocky Mountains. You are on day two of a backcountry hike, waking up this morning at Luellen Lake. Yesterday you set off from Johnston Canyon, the thunder of the lower and upper falls matched by the treading feet of the summer’s tourists. The crowds thinned out above the pools known as the Inkpots, spring-fed waters of blue and green. The trail beyond was a steady uphill walk through alder, willow, and spruce. The fireweed will bloom soon, but many other flowers accompanied the adventure. Last night, a nesting pair of loons across the lake sang into the descending darkness. In the early morning, robins sing in the trees. Cutthroat trout jump in the lake, picking away, one by one, from the bugs that contribute to the buzz in the background. Across the lake, the eastern face of Castle Mountain looms large, well up and above the treeline. On the other side of Castle, the TransCanada Highway bends from southeast to northwest, traversing the Banff – Lake Louise corridor. From here, though, the cars and trucks are silent and invisible. You are glad that you brought your camping hammock in your pack as you move your gaze from the waters to the page.
Photo by Ryan Stone on UnsplashKit Dobson’s Field Notes on Listening is a slender, meditative volume that works its way across landscapes in Alberta and beyond. It is just slender enough to have been a reasonable book to bring up the trail. The book focuses on sound, but it does not end there. Dobson retraces the lands in northern Alberta on which his family settled across the first half of the twentieth century. As he does so, he considers the facets of sound and listening, from music, to conversation, to the noise of the environment itself. He links family pasts to the present moment of climate crisis, loss, and the pandemic. The book was largely written between January and June of 2020, after all. As you open the book, starting off by reading through the sounds that Dobson encountered during that time, you find yourself drawn into an inquiry into what it means to listen. Dobson seeks to learn to listen well and deeply to a world in distress, yet a world in which we might, still, find hope and beauty.Sip that camp coffee as the sun comes up and the bugs retreat into the grasses and shade, and enjoy the read.