those of you who follow such liturgical niceties will know that this monday, tuesday, and wednesday are the traditionally observed rogation days, in which the book of common prayer commends prayers for agriculture. by coincidence, it’s also very near the rice harvest in taitung county. yesterday, i took the early morning train from taipei, sleeping through much of ilan and hualien, only waking up near ruisui. opening my eyes, i was greeted by mountains and the fields beginning to change from green to a light yellow, a sign that the grains are forming. soon the stalks will bow over with their produce

but that presents a bit of a problem for farmers, as sparrows and other small birds come in chittering flocks to get their share of the grain. taiwanese farmers have several means of chasing the robbing birds away: scarecrows, colorful streamers, and repurposed cds–maybe the ones one received from isps?–and whirligigs deck out the fields in colorful, shiny, noisy array. none of these seems to have much of an effect. farmers also employ another tactic, setting off firecrackers periodically, which frights the birds into lifting in a large clattering, twittering cloud out of the fields. angrily the birds settle onto roofs, powerlines, or trees, jostling for spots convenient to the fields. they will return to the rice stalks once the noise turns out to be an empty threat

rice paddies are productive, both in the sense that they provide subsistence for people who work (or as is more common induce others to work) them but also in the sense that they produce an entire ecosystem. traditionally, amis / pangcah women in hualien would hold rituals at this time of year to welcome the birds to visit and glean from harvested fields: once harvested, the fields provided fodder and shelter for ducks and other waterfowl, as well as the sparrows and other birds that gather around grain. hunters could net these birds relatively easily, and ritual surrounding the arrival of the birds generally reproduced a gendered composition of the environment among amis  (for more on this topic see aits butal et al. 2009 pangcah miaraw: an ethnobotany of amis in eastern formosa). for the anthropologist of sound, it’s difficult to bring out some qualities of the environment; however, it doesn’t take good ears to grasp that paddy agriculture extends the habitat of frogs, snakes, small fishes, and egrets. making recordings of the fields around a’tolan, i’ve been trying to capture the different layers of this environment: songbirds, doves, barking and cheeping frogs, children at play, the farmers’ firecrackers, and of course the clattering swallows. here is some work in progress, a’tolan fields at harvest