Nature’s Soundscapes in Danger

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In case you’ve not come across the term soundscape, I would like to start with an illustration:

You wake up in the morning to a cacophony of sound: birds singing and calling; a dog barking somewhere outside; a neighbor starting his car; a truck stopping in front of your house. These are some of the overlapping sounds that exist in your environment. They are part of the soundscape of your neighborhood.

In wild nature the neighborhood includes the elements that make it possible for organisms to find food, shelter, and protection, and where they can reproduce and raise their young. The natural soundscape is made up of all the sounds produced together by the organisms within their neighborhood, or habitat.

Soundscape ecologists study the sounds that come from a particular habitat. Typically, a researcher will traipse to a habitat of interest, set up field microphones and recorders, and listen.

Soundscape ecologist, Bernie Krause, has spent almost fifty years recording soundscapes. He has amassed an inventory of almost four thousand field samples, which he calls the intricate symphonies unique to each habitat.

In a healthy habitat, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals create their own sonic territories – called niches – where they can hear each other unimpeded by their neighbors’ voices. These are essential for their survival, Krause explained. In degraded habitat this cohesion breaks down.

An unintentional outcome of Krause’s work has been the discovery that, over the years more than half of the habitat soundscapes he has captured have been totally silenced or severely damaged by human activity.

The natural soundscape is very fragile, said Krause, and it’s disappearing very quickly.

For your listening/viewing pleasure: Bernie Krause and Nature’s Orchestra

Bernie Krause Ted Talk


3 Lines, 13 Words, 19 Syllables

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A haiku by environmentalist, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Gary Snyder: (from his collection danger on peaks, 2004)

Hammering a dent out of a bucket

a woodpecker

answers from the woods

What a poem! A celebration of connection and acceptance and shared space.  Dignifying self-reliance and industry.

In 3 lines, 13 words, and 19 syllables Gary Snyder has offered us a peek into the workings of nature. Individuals going about their lives, each in his own way, but connected.

After I read this poem I thought about my home and its little patch of ground. I thought about all the living beings who cross my lot lines, openly and with no hesitation, entitled, doing what they do…

The neighborhood cats who show up at mealtime and, stomachs full, stretch out in the sun on the deck…

The raccoons who appear after dark to cash in on my having left the cat food outside…

The skunks, whose calling card is their scent, but who rarely show themselves…

The blue jays that hop around the deck, a kind of playful dance, just before pilfering a kibble of cat food…

The squirrel who chatters high in one of the pines or cedars, mocking a cat below who claws at the bark in frustration…

The spider who dangles from a strand of web outside the dining room window…

The deer, who appear silently, graze silently, rest on the ground in silence, and depart without a sound, but who never fail to leave behind a sense of awe and peace…

They know they belong here. But it’s doubtful they are aware that they enrich my life and have become my companions of a sort. They make me laugh. I’m charmed and amazed by them. I worry about them. Sometimes they make me angry. And sometimes they make me cry.  Like….

When a robin slams into a window and drops…

Or when, in the middle of the night a deep-throated scream tells me that a cat has been taken by a coyote or a raccoon, and the air fills with the barking and howling of dogs near and far. I wish I were a dog so I could bark and howl.  But I cower silently in my bed.  My heart races. It goes out to the ill-fated creature, and to his predator, who needs to eat.

It’s remarkable. After experiencing this poem I can no longer think of my home without feeling the presence of the seen and unseen beings who come from time to time to play and seek food and build webs and nests and take rest.  Where sometimes they kill.  And sometimes they die.

This poem has deepened my appreciation for the vibrancy of our little community, where we are destined to share a little piece of turf as we go about our lives.

Gary Snyder has been writing environmental poetry with the power to transform our view of our place in nature since his days as a “beat” poet, some sixty years ago, long before the emergence of a global ecospirituality movement.

We [the beat writers] didn’t have a big theory of what we were doing, the 87-year-old Snyder said in a recent interview. We were trying to just simply loosen up the heart and mind of people and ourselves.

Well, mine is one heart and mind that certainly got loosened up by his poem.

An Ecologic Ethic

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The idea of creating a global ecologic ethic, as described by Aldo Leopold in his essay The Land Ethic, has been running around in my brain.  I think humanity is ready to pull it off.

  • We are finally acknowledging that the Earth is mortally ill and that we bear some responsibility for its present condition.
  • We are finally ready to take care of the Earth, and hopefully reverse the effects of our bad ecologic habits.
  • The promising ecospirituality movement is helping religious and non-religious people around the globe recognize the need for us to change our concept of and our relationship to nature.
  • Earth Day, since its inception in America on April 22, 1970, has grown to almost 200 countries participating worldwide each year. That’s hundreds of millions of people, maybe a billion. That is a lot of people collectively paying attention to the environment.

The ecologic ethic I imagine would begin with a spiritual mantra: nature is sacred and worthy of care.

Something that is sacred has the power of arousing feelings of reverence and awe, drawing to it devotion and respect. These emotions can affect how we treat each other and, consequently, how we treat the earth.  These emotions call on us to act with compassion, integrity and charity. They call on us to exercise modesty.

I envision a kind of ecologic Sabbath, a weekly, apolitical, non-activist Earth Day of simplicity. No productivity or consumption of natural resources, a time when we buy and sell nothing. A day we share our rest with nature.

Our Earth Day Sabbath would be spent in celebration of Nature’s inherent order, spending time with family and friends, reading and reflecting about the universe and studying ecologic themes. It would be a day obliging us to renounce the use of tools and gadgets and electronics of every kind for twenty-four hours.

The idea of an Earth Day Sabbath came to me after speaking with an Orthodox Jewish woman about nature and spirituality and how she sees their connection to the traditional Jewish Sabbath – which runs from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.

These are her words…

It’s a time to give nature a rest. I have a friend who won’t walk on the grass on Shabbat.  See that fly buzzing around and annoying me?  I would not bother him. He would not be swatted on Shabbat.  It’s also about conservation. You do all your cooking ahead of time. You mete out the food. You can’t be shopping for more. You can’t consume more than you’ve prepared.  It’s a lesson in self-restraint.  Makes you feel stronger as an individual. You feel disciplined, connected. It makes me feel connected to God, but not only God. When I am lighting my Sabbath candles, I know that women all over the world are lighting their candles at sundown.  Powerful – it unifies you.  It’s a spiritual connection.

Touching Nature is taking a holiday break until January 4, 2018.  Happy New Year to you all.

Ecospirituality: Beyond the Oneness

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

This is not a post about climate change. But somehow I’m unable to talk about spirituality and nature, at the same time ignoring the extreme weather events occurring around the world. To me it seems clear that, in Bob Dylan’s words, something’s happening here, and Mother Nature doesn’t seem too pleased about it.

A few stats:

  • The 2016 autumn freeze-up of Arctic sea ice was exceptionally slow, but even stranger things were going on. In mid-November, the sea ice actually started melting
  • Last year saw examples of extreme transitions from drought to above-average rainfall. The most dramatic transition occurred in Australia, which resulted in extensive flooding of inland rivers. (Those of us who live in the foothills of the Sierra can relate to this.)
  • Two separate outbreaks of major hailstorms occurred in Texas, one around Dallas–Fort Worth in March and a second centered on San Antonio in April, resulting in hailstones with a diameter of 4 1/2 inches.
  • Outside the United States, a notable hailstorm occurred in the Brabant province of the Netherlands on 23 June, with hailstones up to 4 inches.
  • The world is getting warmer, but parts of it are actually getting colder. In 2016, northern and central Argentina, Paraguay and lowland Bolivia experienced significantly cooler temperatures on land. South-western Australia experienced its coldest winter since 1990.
  • British Columbia is suffering through its second-worst fire season.
  • By December 8, 2017 Corpus Christi, Texas had received more snow than Denver.
  • In July, Death Valley experienced the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
  • During a dinnertime conversation, friends who live in foothills of the Sierra express alarm at the unseasonable appearance of flowers in their gardens, the need to continue watering their plants because of the lack of rain, and the early budding of otherwise winter dormant trees.

OK, I said this is not a post about climate change.  So, now to the point….  Ecospirituality.   This is a global, sacred, nondenominational movement aimed at strengthening our spiritual connection to nature, at changing our very view of what nature is.

Ecospirituality affirms the holiness and inherent value of all of nature. By pairing spirituality and religion with science, ecospirituality seeks to transform the human relationship to the land into a healing force for our degraded Earth.

How to understand ecospirituality:

Think of spirituality and religion partnering with biology and ecology, of holiness and reverence and benevolence hooked up with stewardship and responsibility for the land. Imagine justice and equality for all living beings attached to environmental activism, and religious and spiritual transcendence grounded in ethical constraint.

Ecospirituality does not eschew established religion. To the contrary, the broad spectrum of supporters associated with the movement includes world religions, and brings a variety of practice and ritual to the table in a shared commitment to reviving our ailing environment.

Deep Ecology. Green Religion. Dark Green Religion. Ecofeminism. Nature Religion. GreenFaith. These are just a few of the groups that have emerged under the umbrella of ecospirituality .

In 1949, in response to his observation of the rising commercialism and materialism associated with the outdoors, environmentalist Aldo Leopold proposed the establishment of a land ethic.

Leopold conceived of the land ethic as the third step in the evolution of the human ethical experience, as introduced in the Bible: the first was the Ten Commandments, which placed constraints on individuals in our struggle to relate morally to one another; the second, The Golden Rule, which set down a framework for the struggle for the moral relationship between the individual and society.

This third ethic Leopold envisioned as an ecologic one based on the premise that all members of nature, including humans, are interconnected and interdependent. As such, it would lay out the parameters for the moral relationship of man to all the land, including the soils, waters, plants, and animals.

According to Leopold, an ecologic ethic, by encompassing all of life, would impose a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.

Perhaps the ecospiritual movement, in taking up this struggle, will be able to contribute to the formulation of an ecologic ethic, one that reframes the relationship of humans to nature from owner and overseer to that of partner and comrade.

Perhaps, through an ecologic ethic, degrading environmental trends like climate change can actually be reversed.













A Poem, Two Photographs, An Article

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In today’s post I am sharing several reader responses to the article Engaging with Spirit: Awesome Awe.

Marcia Goldberg of Montreal, Quebec writes about three personal miracle days.

Always Waking Up
Awe lies dormant till that realm
in nature flies open, self so small
it’s an icon, a footnote, the screen
of conscious unconsciousness
broadly supplying transcendent couplings,
the parietal lobe blitzed, space awareness
toggled to radical amazement:
the mother-self overriding/undergirding
late morning glacial pond on a pier;
top of the skull peeled, stripped, upthrust
in a rush of clouds at Arlington Cemetery
while standing under a maple by a grave marked Blue;
that day at North Palm Beach afloat
in quiet surf, you an outcast
from a trip-of-a-lifetime experience
comported in a split second to an exact impossible illumination
of Magen David overhead, twenty minutes insistent that this is real.

Susie at writes about perfect reflections and shadowy self blending…

I sometimes walk to a nearby pond in the morning when the sunlight is just perfect for reflections and reflecting.  The reflections give me a sense of being a part of an impressionist painting. There is something about a perfect reflection, where it appears that two worlds have blended into one, that fills me with a sense of being part of another dimension; one that is only composed of tranquil beauty.

If the sunlight is just right, and I am standing in just the right spot, I can sometimes photograph my shadowy self blending into the scene.  When I get home and download the photo, I love the experience of seeing that I have become a small unobtrusive part of what I had witnessed.

Amateur HAM radio guru Joe Frank (W6JLF) recommends……

New Study Links Living Near Forests to Healthier Brains


Tom Jacobs posted Nov 30, 2017

Evidence keeps mounting that, in stressful times, there is much to gain by surrounding yourself with plants and trees. As images of the still-burning Northern California wildfires confirm, living on the edge of a forest comes with considerable dangers. But new research from Germany suggests proximity to a wooded landscape may also have a huge benefit.

People who dwell on the border between city and forest may be better able to cope with stress.

In a study of older urban dwellers, it found living in close proximity to forest land is linked with strong, healthy functioning of a key part of the brain. This indicates that, compared with those who live in a mostly man-made environment, people who dwell on the border between city and forest may be better able to cope with stress.

The findings suggest “forests in and around cities are a valuable resource that should be promoted,” writes a research team led by Simone Kuehn of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Its research is published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

Engaging With Spirit: Awesome Awe

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Awe is more than an emotion. It is a way of understanding, an insight into a meaning greater than ourselves….Awe is the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Who is Man?” 1969)

A man stared into a canyon and felt one with everything….

A woman stood between two trees and flashed on the interdependence of all of nature….

A horse trainer walked into a forest and entered a parallel universe….

These were not substance-induced perceptions. These were not spirituality workshop assignments or planned outdoor events. These were spontaneous, fleeting moments of spiritual engagement with nature, triggered by a sense of awe.

Why awe?

Because awe is awesome. Awe is an emotion that resides in us all, dormant, on call for those moments when we behold something in nature’s spirit that invites us in. Awe connects us to our unconscious knowledge of being part of something larger than ourselves, gives us the opportunity to transcend our everyday world and connect spiritually.

Heschel describes awe as the sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the worldAwe allows us to transcend our current frames of reference. Awe triggers transcendence.

Transcendent experience, the kind sparked by nature, involves momentary feelings of appreciation for beauty, a sense of unity with nature, God or the universe, and peacefulness. During a transcendent event we feel diminished.  Our sense of self fades away in what author Jordan Rosenfeld describes as a temporary blurring at the edges.

It’s beyond our capacity to fully grasp what loss of self means. But science now has the technology to probe the brain and, although the answers to what and why are still elusive, at least research is beginning to answer the question of how self-disappearance might occur.

There is some evidence to suggest that areas of the parietal lobe, those which affect our spatial sense, may be involved in the awe experience. Images of the brain show that during intense transcendent episodes there is decreased activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, leaving the brain incapable of separating the self from the surrounding environment. This might contribute to our sense of self-loss and to the blurring of the boundaries between self and other things in the world.

It’s no wonder that such an experience can elicit fear in us; we earthbound creatures, comfortable in knowing who we are and where we exist in space.

But take heart. There may be a good-news point to all of this. Experiencing our smallness through awe may make us better people.

Psychologist Paul Piff and associates conducted a series of experiments designed to test the hypothesis that experience of awe would trigger a sense of small self that would, in turn, lead to greater prosocial behavior – that is, voluntary behavior intended to benefit another person, such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering.

In one of the studies, after having gazed at 200-foot eucalyptus trees for one minute, students reported feeling less self-centered and exhibited greater generosity when given an opportunity to help another person. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, the researchers concluded, awe may encourage people to forego strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.

So, here we are. We are spiritual beings.  We have the capacity for transcendence. What now?

In Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words: Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.




Engaging With Spirit

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

This is not simple, venturing into the obscure, formless realm of spirit. So, for comfort’s sake, I’ll ease in with a definition.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines spirit as an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms – a.k.a., nature. Based on that definition, and recognizing that we are part of the natural world, one way to think of spirituality might be as the human capacity to engage with nature’s life force, its spirit.

To take it a step further, what does it mean to engage? If spirit is what gives nature life, and if spirit resides in us as well, then to engage implies a joining together, a merging, of our spirit with nature’s spirit. In other words, through spiritual engagement we experience our oneness with nature, and we experience this in what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke calls indescribably swift, deep, timeless moments.

It’s no surprise, then, that at such times we might be driven beyond the physical into other-worldly places. A woman is urged by nature to reach out and hug a mountain. A kayaker achieves instinctive understanding with a loon. A horse trainer enters a different dimension where he exists in a state of heightened awareness. The mountain tells a 4-wheel driver he’s where he belongs.

It’s as if at those times, in moments of spiritual connection, people willingly relinquish the rational and take part in their altered reality.

And here is where we touch on one of the most intriguing – and at times, one of the most challenging – aspects of engaging with nature’s spirit; contending with the emotions that well up inside and the feelings attached to those emotions.

As we saw in Iris’ story, the feelings can be difficult. Iris did not negate her spiritual experience. She recognized and accepted her emotions of awe and humility and the appreciation of the beautiful connection between animals and plants. But the amorphous feelings about her spiritual experience made her uncomfortable.

This makes a lot of sense. These feelings can be disorienting, scary. Like having the rug pulled out from under you.

Dr. Lisa M. Christie, adjunct lecturer in the Women’s Spirituality Program at the California Institute for Integral Studies, explained that some people have difficulty integrating mystical experiences into their lives because these experiences can radically shift our understanding of the nature of ourselves and our world. This feeling of disorientation can be frightening.

Further, because these experiences are often discounted in Western culture, people who have them sometimes doubt their  own sanity.   Or they may be censured by friends or relatives.

People can become more comfortable with this kind of experience, with this different sense of ourselves, said Christie. It takes time. It requires a shift from seeing oneself as separate in the world to being part of everything. Connected.

And then there is beauty, a physical aspect of nature that touches us deeply. We marvel at her loveliness, her majesty. When we behold something in nature we consider beautiful, however, our spirit can be stirred beyond an appreciation for the physical.

Marine biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber refers to beauty as aliveness felt.

Nature is about beauty, according to Weber, because beauty is our way to experience aliveness as inwardness. Those awe-inspiring, wow moments that seize us in the face of something beautiful tell us we are alive, engage us with all of life, with spirit.

This reminds me of a story told to me by a backpacker friend. She arrived at dusk at her campsite after a day of hiking. After setting up her tent she went and sat at the edge of the canyon at the periphery of the campsite. The sun was setting behind her. Suddenly, a ribbon of color lined up along the crest of the mountain across the canyon. Like a rainbow lying down, resting in the waning day, is how she described it. As she sat there, a sense of awe washed over her, then utter peace. She needed nothing.  She wanted nothing.  It was a perfect moment.

The words of psychiatrist Carl Jung captures the essence of the backpacker’s experience: One looks out and surrenders all self-importance.

Although there is much in nature that engages our spirit with its beauty, the stars, by offering us a peek into the expanse of the universe, stand out as instigators of spirituality. After all, who can gaze into the heavens and contemplate the universe without feeling some measure of awe and wonder, and for some, connection?

When a man stares at the stars, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1831, he becomes aware of his separateness from the material world.

To end the discussion of beauty in nature, and this post, I have chosen to reproduce here the blog post, Nature’s Beauty, written by Robert Folzenlogen, May 15, 2009.

I believe this offers an interesting and expansive perspective on nature’s beauty, one that I wanted to share with you.

Nature’s Beauty

For most humans, the beauty of nature is represented by spectacular sunsets, magnificent vistas, colorful foliage and graceful wildlife. But her true beauty lies in her diversity and in both the interrelationship and interdependence of her physical forces, chemical processes, biologic systems and countless life forms. Nature is both evolution and extinction, life and death, growth and decay. She is a mosaic of heat and cold, light and darkness, fragility and awesome power. Nature offers sunshine and hurricanes, swans and maggots, rain forests and pond scum, whales and bacteria, distant galaxies and the molecules of life. Nature is neither good nor bad, benevolent nor judgmental, sentimental nor discriminatory. We enjoy her gifts and are subject to her whims. We are, after all, a component of her beauty, just like the golden eagle and the dung beetle.


Reflecting on Spirituality

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A woman – we’ll call her Iris – stands between two bristlecone pines and flashes back on an elementary school lesson about the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As she stands there she feels a connection to the trees and to all of life.

Could  Iris’ experience be described as spiritual?

The following are the comments Iris made as she attempted to answer that question for herself.

There was something about standing on the path between those two trees, and I just felt a connection, but it was a connection I hadn’t thought about since I learned about it in grade school. I thought about how the trees give off oxygen, which we take in, and we give off carbon dioxide, which they take in.

And I thought about the relationship between animals and plants, our beautiful connection to each other, that we need each other, that we’re all part of the same living organism. I don’t know if that was spiritual, that feeling of connection to everything in life. I felt it at that moment. But, maybe it was.

I would think spirituality can be a connection to something bigger than ourselves. When I stood there with a tree on either side of me and I was in the middle, what I felt was a smallness.

I’m just a speck in a big universe. You feel that you are here for a small period of time, passing through.  But those mountains and those trees are going to be here a long time.  I was humbled, not frightened.  It gives you some perspective.

The bristlecone pine are not lofty and not magnificent, not like the redwoods and sequoias. They are small and gnarled. But they are survivors, 5000 years. Think about what was happening in the world 5000 years ago. Europeans were probably still living in caves. It was before Judaism. Around the time the Egyptian pyramids were built.

And yet, a spiritual experience might be as simple as looking at the stars at night, or it could be walking through a field of wildflowers. Moments like that, awe-inspiring, wow moments. I guess a wow moment can be an appreciation of the beauty of the moment. But do I see that as a part of a big connection to God? No. You could probably be an atheist and feel the spiritual connection to nature.

I’m such a practical person, that I kind of don’t want to deal with spirituality. The feelings are too amorphous.  It’s the unknown, and spirituality has a sense of the unknown.  It could be comforting for someone actually seeking it, but for me it’s uncomfortable.

Beauty. Emotion. Connection. The unknown. God. Iris has touched  upon many of the elements we associate with spirituality. Her statement gives us a kind of blueprint for considering the topic.

Next week’s post, It is. It isn’t. Maybe It Iswill explore the role of beauty and emotion in connection with the spiritual experience. 



Intuition: The Sixth Sense

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Intuition. How does one begin to understand something that can’t be seen, touched, tasted, smelled or heard, something that eludes those basic senses that anchor us and help make our world comprehensible? What exactly does it mean when intuition is described as an unconscious sense of knowing or a clear conception of the whole?

It is probably beyond our ability to comprehend. It is not reasonable. It does not lend itself to rational approaches to understanding.

Yet, we know intuition exists. We feel it in our gut. We infer it from observation and evidence.  Intuitive knowledge results in the familiar ‘aha moment’; in the experience of thinking or dreaming of someone who calls the next day; in the I-knew-that-was-going-to-happen event.

Intuition also offers a gateway to our primal selves and helps us preserve our unity with all of the natural world. When modern life threatens to sever us from nature, intuition lets us know and sends us out for a walk in the woods, or compels us to hug our cat, or to stop in our path and gaze into a star-studded sky.

Intuition exists in us all, although some of us are more in touch with our intuitive selves than others. Intuitive awareness becomes available to us when logic falters and objective life is not enough.

With intuition, however, we are challenged to leave the comfort of concrete experience. Our intuitive understanding does not come through reason and judgement, as happens in our conscious life. The understanding comes through knowing we know, but not necessarily knowing how we came to know. In making decisions based on our intuition, we rely on an internal communication system that accepts the absence of logic and reason.

It boils down to our conceding to the idea that we have unconscious and subconscious abilities that allow us to sense everything in our surroundings all at once. Leading us to solutions and actions.

Although the neural pathways associated with our five basic senses have been well documented, researchers are still unclear about where intuitive perception – commonly referred to as the sixth sense – resides in the brain. Researchers are attempting to understand intuition and to pinpoint the regions in the brain that contribute to intuitive experience.

Other research is attempting to understand the decision-making aspects of intuition. Scientists are trying to identify the intuitive decision-making processes that result in the ability to recognize and act on intuitive information, without intentional and conscious analysis.

An interesting four-year study, which began in 2012 by the Office of Naval Research, was undertaken as a result of a steady stream of anecdotal reports of marines and soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan who, in combat, had developed a feeling or a hunch that alerted them to possible attack or the presence of a hidden I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device). Dubbed, the spidey sense, after the mysterious perception and intuitive power of Spiderman, this ‘sense’ about the dangers they were facing while in combat allowed them to trust what they knew and to respond without conscious analysis.

In the course of analyzing their data, researchers identified two types of individuals who exhibited greater ability to detect hidden I.E.D.s and who were more alert to the danger around them: 1) Those who either had been raised in rural areas in a natural environment and who had experience with hunting, and 2) those who had grown up in tough urban settings.

This raises many questions about the relationship between intuition, prior knowledge and experience. But I’ll leave that for someone else to ponder.

What is of interest here is this truly human phenomenon called intuition, which expands our possibilities beyond what we experience in the objective world and which keeps us connected to the wild.






Trophy Hunting: Take 2

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Did it ever occur to you that outdoor recreation in all its iterations could be considered a form of trophy hunting?

Take as an example, bird-watching. To spend a day bird-watching all you probably need to do is throw some snacks and water into a backpack, grab your binoculars, and head into the woods.

However, as researcher David Cole points out in his review of the wilderness experience, it is more likely that you would plan your adventure and set goals. You would probably pack your birder’s guide along with your binoculars and your camera with a zoom lens. You might challenge yourself to spot a new bird. Or identify a new call.

It’s great fun, planning and gathering the paraphernalia, reading the maps, setting goals and anticipating their success. According to Cole, it’s also motivating. It shapes your experience and gives it purpose. Pursuing goals challenges your skills and your creativity and brings much joy. As such, the quality of the experience is greatly enhanced.

So what is the trophy when it’s not a tangible something? What do you bring home?

As a birder, you bring home your story that you share with fellow birders. You bring home an item to post in your birding journal. And, if you’re lucky, you bring home a photograph.  These are your ‘certificates’ that say – in Aldo Leopold’s words – its owner has been somewhere and done something – that he has exercised skill, persistence, or discrimination in the age-old feat of overcoming, outwitting, or reducing-to-possession.

Trophies gained through recreation in the wild can come at a price, however. The loss of a rare living creature. The degradation of objects removed as specimens of interest. The integrity of a meadow when the trophy is mud.

For the recreationist, even in such eco-friendly pursuits as birding, hiking and photography, the price can be the loss of a sense of oneness with the natural world. Feelings of connection could lay dormant, buried under the layers of gadgets and goals and hoped-for triumphs, where nature becomes merely an arena for personal pursuits and pleasure.

So, how can we sustain our awareness of our fundamental kinship with the natural world when our lives are full of demands on our time, when we are by nature innovative, creative and energetic beings?

Through our senses….

  • A horse trainer looks into the eyes of his horses and receives permission to begin his training.
  • A 4-wheel driver gets out of his truck and stands on the shore of a mountain lake and knows he’s where he belongs.
  • A woman reaches out to hug a mountain because that’s what nature makes you do.
  • A hiker gazes into a valley and feels being one with everything
  • We look into the eyes of a pond turtle and we worry for her safety.

Watching. Looking. Paying attention. We take that first step and tumble headlong into the horse trainer’s parallel universe of heightened awareness and consciousness. We achieve instinctive understanding, oneness, and belonging. We are awestruck by the beauty. We exhibit empathy.

Once such seeing is achieved, the challenge is to hold on to the connection; watching more, looking further, paying more attention, going deeper into the gift of sight, perhaps exploiting the depth perception and peripheral vision that give us the ability to take in our entire surroundings.

In her memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard devoted an entire chapter to ‘seeing’.

Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair. A fish flashes, then dissolves in the water before my eyes like so much salt; deer apparently ascend bodily into heaven; the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration…..there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied…..When I see this way I see truly.

And what of our other senses? From early childhood we learn that we have five: sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing. And we carry that bit of information into adulthood. We talk about using our senses in the wilderness to slow down and smell the roses, to identify birds by their sounds, to search for wildflowers, and stop and feel the wind.

Sensing in the wild in a connected way, however, is not about achieving serenity or slowing down. It’s not about enjoyment or about collecting.  It’s about increased awareness.

John Muir, in his essay A Wind Storm in the Forest, talks of seeing the winds, which become at times about as visible as flowing water.

For the 4-wheel driver, using his senses in the wild is about survival, kill or be killed.

When I’m out there, my primal instincts kick in so that I can hear a twig crack in one direction and know it came from over there, or I notice something doesn’t fit in, it’s the wrong color, or that something is giving off a particular smell. It’s my sight and hearing, my ability to smell, these all work together the way they were meant to.

In her article, Finding My Wilderness Self, hunter Robyn Miglorian describes  how, in the process of learning to hunt for her meat, her senses became sharper and tuned into what she describes as the chorus of life of the wilderness.

The goal was to see before being seen and to hear before being heard. The pursuit of game required a complete mental and sensory recalibration. For the first time in my life, I had to actually tune in to the living, breathing wild. I had to embrace the silence that I feared.

Over time, the silence and stillness gradually morphed from a chore, to a routine, to a way of existing. On a bowhunt for deer this September, six quail waltzed by within ten feet of me as I stood like a statue in the pre-dawn dimness. During a mid-afternoon glassing session [using her binoculars or her scope], I entered into a five-minute staring contest with a hyper-vigilant doe while her two fawns milled about feeding. In these moments I felt like more of an intimate member of the desert wilderness than I ever have before.

For me, becoming a hunter meant quietly embracing the chorus of life in the wilderness – what I had before perceived as uncomfortable silence – and gleaning as much information from it as possible. In doing so, I am developing an integrated sense of belonging in the backcountry and seeing what it means to be human-as-predator. I am finding my wilderness self.