Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind.

Sometimes you trip into something, something that is so big, and so right (this Sunday morning), that you don’t want to soil it by sharing a few excerpts. (But I’m going to do it anyway, of course.) I urge you to listen to Krista Tippett’s entire 51 minute interview with Gordon Hempton where the conversation is sprinkled with Hempton’s nature recordings. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, a collector of sound all over the world. You can find the entire transcript and audio recording here: “Silence and the Presence of Everything.” I’ve shared a few passages below:

________

“OK. So I get out of my car, all right? We’ll still hear the pinging of its engine. We’ll hear other cars and other visitors, and we’ll hear the “beep-beep” of our modern world as people are locking their cars and the rustling of our artificial fabrics against our bodies. Some people will be chattering away on cell phones. But then the sound of my backpack goes over my shoulders, and we head off down the trail. And no more than 100 yards along these tall, tree-lined, ferned path with moss drapes that add sound-deadening to the experience, we’ll hear the call-off twitter of a Winter Wren, this very high-pitched twittering sound that might be coming from 100 feet away…And then we’ll hear further away the sound of the Hoh River that drains the Rain Forest echoing off the far side of the valley…And if we were taking this hike in the fall, we would hear the bugling of the Roosevelt elk… Up close, it’s actually quite a guttural, adrenalin-filled assertion of what it means to be male and wild. But when you hear this experience from a couple of miles away, isn’t that amazing? When you’re in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral. […]

Yeah. Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writing of John Muir, which he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat. […]

But I found the sound that I enjoyed most was the sound of the silence in the volcano. The measurement of decibels actually goes into the minus point, but there still is a sense of presence, of where you are. Then once you get over the rim of the volcano, you begin to pick up what I call the mantra of the islands, and that’s the distant beating of that drum called the Pacific Ocean. […]

We’re about to enter into a giant driftwood log. It’s a Sitka spruce log, the same material that’s used in the crafting of violins, and it has a special property where that, when the wood fibers are excited by acoustic energy — in this case, it’s the sound of the ocean itself — that the fibers actually vibrate. And inside, we get to listen to nature’s largest violin. […] [Read more…]

Sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. Repeat, hundreds of times over.

I found that trees are full of sound. Wind reveals the architecture of branches and leaves, and every tree has its own wind sound, emerging from the particularities of its physiology. For example, the Ponderosa pine trees in Colorado sound different from the same species in California. Each has needles adapted to the local environment, so each sounds different when the wind blows. Broad-leaves trees are likewise diverse in their voices. City trees have rumbles of buses and trains running through them, changing the form of their wood. Birds sing from branches and insects gnaw on inner wood. Then there are tree sounds that are too high for our ears, but by listening with sensitive microphones I heard water pulsing through branches and ultrasonic clicks of distress in drought-stricken twigs. These sounds combined with the voices of market vendors working in the trees’ shade, birds singing amid traffic noise, and surf sucking at palm roots on an eroding beach. Sound is a great way into tree lives: it passes around and through solid barriers, revealing what our eyes cannot see.

~ David George Haskell, in an interview by Caspar Henderson titled: David George Haskell recommends the best books on Trees (fivebooks.com, July 13, 2017)


Notes:

  • Other notable statements in this interview by David George Haskell: “Smelling the soil, talking to other people, holding an acorn in your hand, coming to know the sounds of birds and trees: these have great power once we wake to them, partly because they are such multi-sensory activities, engaging mind and emotion… (Yet) Our modern dependence on trees is mostly hidden from our senses. We don’t hear the rain passing through forest canopies on its way to the reservoir. We don’t smell the wood pellets and coal chunks that power our computers and homes. The wood that frames our houses, holds up our furniture, and gives us paper arrives with signs of its ecological history purged. So we imagine that we’ve transcended our ancestors’ close relationship with trees. But this is illusion. There is no good future for Homo sapiens without forests. Yet forests are in crisis. We live in an age of great diminishment. In just the first dozen years of this millennium, 2.3 million square kilometres of forest were lost – cut, burned, drowned, desertified – yet only 0.8 million regrew or were replanted.
  • Photo: François Vigneron with Four in a Square (via Newthom)

 

(Relief from) waking each day in disbelief at the news feeds on my phone

Rob Cowen, excerpts from Where Nature Gets to Run Amok:

A few mornings back, after another week of waking each day in disbelief at the news feeds on my phone, I rose early, pulled on my clothes and headed out into the darkness. There’s a place I always go when I feel like this. Crossing over the highway, weaving through the masses of housing and the still-sleeping suburbs, I sensed it rising behind the low walls and privet hedges on the outskirts of town like a great wave — that strange space beyond the streetlights; the tangled, messy border where human and nature collide and collude. Edgeland.

By the time I reached it, the sun was rising to the east, coaxed into the sky by the chorus of blackbirds and robins. It had been clear and cold overnight, and a thin mist hovered over the shabby fields, like a breath exhaled. Rounding the corner of an old lane, I’d seen them — a pair of roe deer feeding close to a hawthorn hedge, their great hare-like ears twitching and flicking as they ranged for sounds. The wind was with me, the noise of my approach was masked by the first washes of traffic spilling onto the main roads, so I was able to watch them for a while before I was detected. Then one shot up its head and fixed me in its otherworldly vision, and some silent signal was exchanged. Both vanished noiselessly over the field in great leaping bounds, like fairground horses on a carousel. The whole encounter lasted five, maybe seven minutes. There, then gone. A brief portal into another realm and other vivid lives lived in parallel to our own, but more than enough to get me through the day ahead. [Read more…]

in a language no school has taught you

You heard—the song the moth sings, the babble
Of falling snowflakes (in a language
No school has taught you), the scream
Of the reddening bud of the oak tree

As the bud burst into the world’s brightness.

~ Robert Penn Warren, from “Muted Music,” The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren


Notes:

Sunday Morning

Q: Several poems in this collection speak to a desire for silence—an even bigger appetite for it than the speaker originally had thought was needed. How much silence do you usually need to write, and how do you get it?

JH: I need more and more silence, it feels. Poems don’t leap into my mind when I’m distracted, turned outward, with other people, listening to music. It’s more for me as with going into a forest: if you sit quietly for a long time, the life around you emerges. As the world grows ever more clamorous, my hunger for silence steepens. I unplug the landline.

~ Jane Hirshfield, from Of Amplitude There Is No Scraping Bottom: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield (Tin House, March 15, 2016)


Notes:

 

Come to the woods, for here is rest.

tree-cold-winter

To Fight the Winter Blues, Try a Dose of Nature by Florence Williams (excerpts):

Wintertime is rough on those whom the 19th-century hiker-philosopher John Muir called “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” But we have an obvious cure for our doldrums: go outside. Though we are months away from the flowers and leafy foliage of spring, a dose of nature can still calm the mind and solidify human bonds. The real question is why we don’t partake more often of this easy balm…

After crunching the data, Dr. MacKerron and Susana Mourato…found people were significantly happier outdoors, especially in natural settings, than they were indoors…But there was a catch: Most of the participants didn’t behave as if they knew this, because they were rarely outside. They were indoors or in vehicles for 93% of their waking hours.

The study reveals our epidemic dislocation from the outdoors—an indictment not just of the structures and expectations of modern life but of our self-understanding. As the writer Annie Dillard famously said, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Why don’t we do more of what makes us happy? Part of the answer is that we’re flat-out busy. But even when we have free time, we’re not always smart about how we spend it…

Because we don’t spend enough time outside to notice that it makes us feel good, we spend even less time outside, replacing it with shopping, social media and so on. We especially “devalue nearby nature,” she says, such as small urban parks and tree-lined streets, because we tend to think they aren’t impressive enough as destinations. Scientists are quantifying the effects of even small doses of urban nature not only on our moods and well-being but also on our ability to think—to remember things, plan, create, daydream and focus… [Read more…]

Through these woods I have walked

aerial-oregon-forest-winter-mt-hood

Through these woods I have walked thousands of times. For many years I felt more at home here than anywhere else, including our own house. Stepping out into the world…was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight. I was stepping across some border. I don’t mean just that the world changed on the other side of the border, but that I did too…They recognized and responded to my presence, and to my mood. They began to offer, or I began to feel them offer, their serene greeting. It was like a quick change of temperature, a warm and comfortable flush, faint yet palpable, as I walked toward them and beneath their outflowing branches.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Winter Hours” in Upstream: Selected Essays


Notes: Photo: Michael Shainblum: An aerial image of a snowy morning in Oregon taken during a misty sunrise near Mount Hood. (Photo selection inspired by Dec 21, 2016, the Winter Solstice.)

Pass through my body with a jolt

hand-light-greg-ponthus
I remember when I was a child at Coolin or Sagle or Talache, walking into the woods by myself and feeling the solitude around me build like electricity and pass through my body with a jolt that made my hair prickle. I remember kneeling by a creek that spilled and pooled among rocks and fallen trees with the unspeakably tender growth of small trees already sprouting from their backs, and thinking, there is only one thing wrong here, which is my own presence, and that is the slightest imaginable intrusion—feeling that my solitude, my loneliness, made me almost acceptable in so sacred a place. [….]

 Marilynne Robinson,  When I Was A Child I Read Books: Essays


Post title inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”


Notes:

 

Lightly child, lightly

trees-black-and-white-woods

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.

~ Wendell Berry, “Woods” From Collected Poems, 1957-1982.


Notes:

  • Poem: Thank you Beth for your ongoing inspirations: Alive on All Channels
  • Photograph: Albert Renger-Patzsch – Beechwood in Fall, 1936 (via Newthom).
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Now look again. Did you see something green? If you did, you saw one of the few things left in the world that people cannot make.

hope-jahren

PEOPLE LOVE THE OCEAN. People are always asking me why I don’t study the ocean, because, after all, I live in Hawaii. I tell them that it’s because the ocean is a lonely, empty place. There is six hundred times more life on land than there is in the ocean, and this fact mostly comes down to plants. The average ocean plant is one cell that lives for about twenty days. The average land plant is a two-ton tree that lives for more than one hundred years. The mass ratio of plants to animals in the ocean is close to four, while the ratio on land is closer to a thousand. Plant numbers are staggering: there are eighty billion trees just within the protected forests of the western United States. The ratio of trees to people in America is well over two hundred. As a rule, people live among plants but they don’t really see them. Since I’ve discovered these numbers, I can see little else.

So humor me for a minute, and look out your window. What did you see? You probably saw things that people make. These include other people, cars, buildings, and sidewalks. After just a few years of design, engineering, mining, forging, digging, welding, bricklaying, window-framing, spackling, plumbing, wiring, and painting, people can make a hundred-story skyscraper capable of casting a thousand-foot shadow. It’s really impressive.

Now look again. Did you see something green? If you did, you saw one of the few things left in the world that people cannot make. What you saw was invented more than four hundred million years ago near the equator. Perhaps you were lucky enough to see a tree. That tree was designed about three hundred million years ago. The mining of the atmosphere, the cell-laying, the wax-spackling, plumbing, and pigmentation took a few months at most, giving rise to nothing more or less perfect than a leaf. There are about as many leaves on one tree as there are hairs on your head. It’s really impressive.

~ Hope Jahren, Lab Girl 


Lab Girl was selected as an Amazon Book of the Month for April, 2016.  These are the opening lines from Hope Jahren‘s book which is described as “an illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world.”

New York Times Book Review: ‘Lab Girl,’ Hope Jahren’s Road Map to the Secret Life of Plants

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