“That dude’s playing the bagpipes again,” I said to my husband once the girls were in bed. Lately, we often hear him playing in the evenings.
“That terrible noise should be banned,” he replied.
Agreed, it wasn’t the most tuneful rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave,’ but I didn’t share my husband’s sentiment. “Well, I guess he’s got to practice SOME time.”
“But why?” My husband rolled his eyes. “No-one EVER wants to listen to the bagpipes!”
I have to admit, I too used to hate the bagpipes. I thought they sounded like a bumblebee on steroids. But I’ve changed my mind. These days, for me, the bagpipes evoke highlands and warriors, men in kilts and haggis. They have a soulful sound; the breath behind the notes reveals the player behind the playing. And to hear them in Australia? You can’t help but stop and listen. It’s like the sound is coming from other world.
When I heard them the other night, I decided to grab the dog lead and take Zappa for a walk. I wanted to listen more closely to the music that was drifting in our lounge room window. And as we set off towards our usual bushland, the sound of bagpipes accompanied our steps.
I love our evening walks. There’s old trees and roosting birds, rustling bushes and the crunch of gravel. Zappa and I always go the same route — through the bushland and out to the park beyond, round the wetlands, past the bench where we stop and see the ducks, over the grass, and then home again. Normally, I can hear frogs, crickets, birds, sometimes dogs. Today was different. The sound of bagpipes pervaded warm air.
The music seemed so out of context to the landscape. Connotations of long ago battles, windswept moorlands, crumbling castles… they didn’t fit with the warm night, the grassy scrub, the fading sunset amongst the gum trees. This present landscape of mine belongs to dreamtime, ancient tribes and laughing kookaburras.
As usual, my mind wandered off to the past, wondering what used to be here before the park was landscaped. I wondered how many of the trees had been planted by a bird or the wind, and how many had been planted by humans. I imagined what it would have been like here before the houses, before the road, before the ‘bloggers’ out walking their dogs. I guessed the wetlands would still have been here, and where there’s water, there’s always life, right? But what kind of life would have lived here before me? Who might have stepped here before the path went down.
As I rounded the corner, I was taken aback. The bagpipes grew suddenly louder, and I saw a small gathering on the grass in front of me. It was the bagpipe man! There he was! Standing playing in a clearing. He was in the centre of a small crowd of dog walkers who had surrounded him. A far cry from William Wallace, he wore blue shorts, a red hat, and tatty thongs upon his feet. But despite his ordinary clothes, he was somehow not ordinary, because he was doing something extraordinary. And not just playing bagpipes in the park, he was practicing bagpipes in the park, warts and all.
Zappa in tow, I veered off my path towards him, like an iron filing drawn to a magnet. The whole spectacle was surreal. Out of place. Weird, even. I had to see up close what this man was doing. Other passers-by must have thought the same thing as me, for they had also stopped ‘passing by’ and we were all now standing, staring, sharing this man’s rehearsal. People stared at him while he played his tunes, and applauded when he paused. Every now and again, the makeshift audience looked around at each other in bewilderment. Not quite sure if we should be there. Not quite sure if we should say something. Yet for some reason staying, smiling, nodding. There was a strange connection between us all as we shared this bizarre moment. And it was a ‘moment’, that’s for sure.
All the while, the man played on; Celtic melodies in the landscape.
I wondered, then, how long ago it was that these same trees and rocks and wetlands heard a different tune to the one that now rang out. Perhaps it was last week, when a car drove past, music blaring. Or it could have been last month, when a local family spread out a picnic rug and the kids sang along to the radio. It could have been last year, five years ago, ten, twenty, maybe more. How many different sounds had this landscape witnessed? And in the rings of tree trunks, what other moments had been absorbed? I only knew for sure that this wasn’t the only time that people and music and nature had come together in this spot. And although moments like these are special, they’re only another layer in the magic that’s been before us.
But then again, I might be wrong. I am a little strange.
“Honey, you will NEVER guess what I just saw,” I said when we got home.
“That dude playing bagpipes! He was standing in the middle of the park!”
“You should’ve called the police.”
NOTE: The day after I wrote this blog post, I met the bagpipe man. He was playing in a different spot, by the lake this time, and I couldn’t help but ask him for a photo. Apparently, the previous night, a woman who lived nearby asked him to stop playing. Her baby was trying to sleep, and she had threatened to call the police.