Again, on a windy night have you not heard the wind sounding a wild, sad note down a valley? Why do you think it sounds so much louder and more musical here than when it is blowing across the plain? Because air in the valley will only answer to a certain set of waves, and, like the pan-pipe, gives a particular note as the wind blows across it, and these waves go up and down the valley in regular pulses, making a wild howl. You may hear the same in the chimney, or in the keyhole; all these are waves set up in the hole across which the wind blows. Even the music in the shell which you hold to your ear is made by the air in the shell pulsating to and fro. And how do you think it is set going? By the throbbing of the veins in your own ear, which causes the air in the shell to vibrate.
Another grand voice of nature is the thunder. People often have a vague idea that thunder is produced by the clouds knocking together, which is very absurd, if you remember that clouds are but water-dust. The most probable explanation of thunder is much more beautiful than this. You will remember from Lecture III that heat forces the air-atoms apart. Now, when a flash of lightning crosses the sky it suddenly expands the air all round it as it passes, so that globe after globe of sound-waves is formed at every point across which the lightning travels. Now light, you remember, travels so wonderfully rapidly (192,000 miles in a second) that a flash of lightning is seen by us and is over in a second, even when it is two or three miles long. But sound comes slowly, taking five seconds to travel half a mile, and so all the sound-waves at each point of the two or three miles fall on our ear one after the other, and make the rolling thunder. Sometimes the roll is made even longer by the echo, as the sound-waves are reflected to and fro by the clouds on their road; and in the mountains we know how the peals echo and re-echo till they die away.
We might fill up far more than an hour in speaking of those voices which come to us as nature is at work. Think of the patter of the rain, how each drop as it hits the pavement sends circles of sound-waves out on all sides; or the loud report which falls on the ear of the Alpine traveller as the glacier cracks on its way down the valley; or the mighty boom of the avalanche as the snow slides in huge masses off the side of the lofty mountain. Each and all of these create their sound-waves, large or small, loud or feeble, which make their way to your ear, and become converted into sound.
We have, however, only time now just to glance at life-sounds, of which there are so many around us. Do you know why we hear a buzzing, as the gnat, the bee, or the cockchafer fly past? Not by the beating of their wings against the air, as many people imagine, and as is really the case with humming birds, but by the scraping of the under-part of their hard wings against the edges of their hind legs, which are toothed like a saw. The more rapidly their wings move the stronger the grating sound becomes, and you will now see why in hot, thirsty weather the buzzing of the gnat is so loud, for the more thirsty and the more eager he becomes, the wilder his movements will be.