Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

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The Sound of Cape Town

There is a sound that can mean only Cape Town for me. It was a distinctive bird call that one hears everywhere on the beautiful Cape Peninsula and, in the course of my ten years in that area, it came to be identified closely with my time there. I would like to say that the sound brings back the memory of Cape Town instantly but I cannot - since leaving the city, I have never, until today, heard it again.

We are talking earliest memories here, for I arrived in Cape Town at the age of six weeks and lived there until I was eleven years old. So it may not be surprising that this haunting sound came to be imprinted on my memory; yet it is still surprising to me that fifty years later I can recall the notes so clearly. Indeed, today my aging brain has confirmed its accuracy for I have at last heard the sound again.

I write of the call of the red-eyed dove, a name that I did not know then and have discovered only though the infinitely knowledgable resources of the internet. It is a call instantly recognizable as that of a dove, being based upon the familiar coo-coo we know so well, but this particular species has developed it further than most and created a series of notes that I have heard nowhere else.

That is quite strange, in fact, since I lived in Zimbabwe for a further seventeen years after leaving Cape Town and I read that the red-eyed dove is quite plentiful there too. Perhaps it is quieter in the depths of Africa, however; I never heard the distinctive melody again until today, as I have said. Indeed, I missed it, never being satisfied with the much simpler sounds of local doves whether in Zimbabwe, England or the States.

It was a New England dove that gave me the idea of looking up the sound on the internet. As I pondered the outside world through my window, a grey-green dove arrived and perched for a while on a nearby branch. It had nothing to say and soon flew off on some important mission but the mere sight of it had brought back the memory of Cape Town and the sound so inextricably woven into it. I began the search.

It was a difficult task to identify which particular dove was responsible, for there are three that inhabit Cape Town and its environs. In the end, I had to look at all of them, searching for the soundbite that would confirm that my quest was ended. There is much to be read on the subject of southern African doves but few have a sound clip attached and I was almost in despair when I stumbled upon something even better - a video of a red-eyed dove with the sound of its call included.

At last the coo-COO coo-COO-coo-coo melody reached my ears again and I was transported once again to the forests climbing up the slopes of Table Mountain, that faint and distinctive sound serving only to highlight the hush beneath the trees. It will be less meaningful for my readers but, if you wish to hear the sound (and see the bird), the link to the video is here.

And who knows? If you find yourself in Cape Town through some unexpected chance, you might hear the sound again and be reminded of a young boy in another age with mind wide open to the onrush of experience, becoming forever tied to this city at the tip of Africa by the commonplace call of a dove.

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