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.