Recently, The Sun magazine had an interview with Bernie Krause, who has spent years recording the collective sounds of nonhuman living things (called biophony) and nonbiological natural sounds of the earth processes such as waterfalls and cracking ice (called geophony) in places all around the world. Krause challenges us to be present in nature by actively listening to the sounds around us as we venture out in the natural world.
I live near Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, Maryland, and I take daily walks around the lake. Since reading the Krause interview, I have been thinking about the sounds of the Lake Elkhorn – the biophony and geophony as well as the cacophony of sounds made by humans and their machines. I have been considering how listening plays into the idea of a sense of place.
When I first moved to Lake Elkhorn, I was amazed at the sounds of the birds in the spring as they announced their arrival and began the task of courting, mating, and raising their young. Some of the birds are easy to see on nearby branches, and others are more elusive, hiding up in the tops of the trees – their presence announced only by their songs. One of my favorite birds, the wood thrush, has an especially beautiful song that echoes through the canopy. I anticipate its arrival each year.
This spring the birds began arriving, but the chatter seemed to have had fewer participants. The morning chorus that would once wake me from a deep sleep was more subdued. The wood thrush came briefly but moved on to select another canopy for its springtime mating. Could this change in the biophony of Lake Elkhorn be an indication of a change in its health? Maybe it is due to an increase in human noise. Or is it a symptom of something greater in scale?
I take these thoughts with me down to the lake as I do my daily walk, and I am struck by the number of people who come to Lake Elkhorn to walk its shores while plugged into some kind of technology. The sounds of the natural world are shut out, and it becomes only the visual experience. More and more the places where we spend time day after day are filled with sounds humans have created. How does this impact the act of saving the places we love? How will we know when the natural world is telling us of its deterioration if we are not listening? We need to be tuned in with all our senses to better respond to the changes happening all around us.