Sound, referring to a feature of coastlines, comes from the Middle and Old English sund, “to swim.” The word in its modern guise evokes both this watery root, as well as the idea of soundings—measurements of depth, quests, or probings, downward and inward. A sound is a waterway connecting two larger bodies of water or two parts of the same body, though the term can also refer to an arm of the sea forming a channel between a mainland and an island. Examples of sounds include Puget Sound on the northwest coast of the United States, and Long Island Sound on the east. Prince William Sound in Alaska is also a classic example. It was here that in 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled more than 10.9 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating an environmental catastrophe of unimaginable magnitude. American writer Marybeth Holleman, in her book The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost, writes of Prince William Sound that it “is a world unto itself. It is delineated not just by the coastline, the way it indents at Cape Puget and at the Copper River Delta into what, upon his visit in 1899, John Burroughs called ‘the enchanted circle.’ It is contained by a string of mountain peaks, among them the highest coastal mountains in the world, some of them nunataks, jagged spires that jut through an ice field. These mountains enclose the Sound, hold clouds and rain in. They encircle it like sentries. The mountains, the water, the ice fields—it seemed to me they were all protecting this place, guarding it from harm.” Gretchen Legler

Gretchen Legler