I had heard about them long before I found them.

Somewhere there was a set of bells in the woods of Groton. An artist had put them up. I would make a mental note to try to find out more. Not such an easy matter.

I found references to the bells, but never any directions, no matter where I looked.

Then, a colleague at work told me they could be found in the woods off an old, abandoned road.

“There’s no sign or anything. You just go down the road for a ways and they’re in the woods off to the right.”

So, on a bright, sunny morning during the recent school vacation I set off, armed with a compass and a vague idea of what I was looking for. I found the road, and there were woods on the right.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the other side of the road was one of Massachusetts Audubon’s newest acquisitions, the Rocky Hill Sanctuary. There are no maps or trail markers yet, so it’s not officially open to the public, but it definitely looks like an area worth exploring.

There were plenty of woods, but no paths. Every so often I’d bushwhack in a ways and look around, but didn’t see anything that might house or hold up bells or chimes or whatever I was looking for.

Then, not too far along, a path came in from the right, so I followed that. A trail wound up a ridge overlooking a pond
or a swamp – hard to tell, it was frozen over. The trees were primarily hemlock, cutting off much of the light, though there were also a few oak and birch mixed in.

The first thing that caught my eye was a crude lean-to someone had set up from fallen branches, and then a shift in the wind and a glint of light reflecting off something. The something was a long metal tube, maybe six feet long, hanging down from one of the trees. I looked around and found another, and another – five in all. Each one a different length. A rope leading up to a clapper hung down through the tube.

I stood and thought for a long time before I decided to pull it. I don’t know why I felt so inhibited, it was put there and meant to be pulled, so pull it I did, and a deep, soft tone rang out through the woods. When that note died away, I rang another and another until I had rung each in succession. A different length, a different tone, but each one equally soft and resonant, in perfect harmony with the woods around them.

As I was writing this post, I began to realize that it’s no accident that there aren’t any signs or easy-to-find directions. Finding them depends on an informal understanding that the directions only be given by word-of-mouth. Maybe that, too, is part of this sound sculpture.

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