California Culture


Whistling in the New Year

By C. MacDonald

My grandfather had a unique whistle he used to welcome in the New Year. It was so loud, you could hear it all over San Francisco. He and his three other brothers even had their own whistling language, growing up in the city-by-the-bay. They were able to communicate with each other through their whistles. How cool is that?

People still communicate through whistling on La Gomera, one of Spain's Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. Through their whistles, they're able to "talk" across deep ravines, high hills and narrow valleys around the island.

Nearly everyone can develop a degree of proficiency in the free, ageless art of whistling. Most just whistle for enjoyment--some turn it into an art form. It relieves tension, helps develop your lungs, enables you to communicate with birds and gives others a warning.

There are many ways to whistle--the most common being the "kiss whistle," where you pucker your lips then inhale and exhale. But the most unusual sound may be my grandfather's "chicken-scatterer."

Grandpa said he was riding a bike rather fast when he spotted a whole bunch of chickens right smack in the center of his path at the bottom of a steep hill in San Francisco. "In an instant, I developed the chicken- scatterer whistle, which saved the lives of the fowl and kept me out of danger," he explained years ago. This whistle was created by sucking in your lower lip over the bottom row of teeth and blowing air out of your mouth. If you do it properly, it can be heard a long ways away. I still use it today.

Another loud whistle involves placing your index and middle finger in your mouth and blowing air out sharply. This will either win you a lot of amazed friends or get you some angry enemies.

Some folks' favorite whistle is created by placing your thumb and index finger in your mouth and blowing between them. An off-shoot of this involves putting your index and small finger in your mouth.

Perhaps the most unusual whistle I ever came across was one my grandfather perfected, called "the knuckle ball." Somehow, he was able to place his knuckles against his teeth and blow through the finger cracks for one of the strangest sounds around.

There are a lot more types of whistles which punctuate the air--some subtle, some bombastic--which provide joy, warnings and other signals to humans and animals within earshot.

If you haven't already, I'm sure you can develop your own, unique whistle in this new year. You never know when you'll come across a bunch of turkeys in your path. Happy New Year from all of us as

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