The Sound of Nature

Barred Owl in the RainBy Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

This morning I woke at 4:00 am.  The crescent moon was high in the eastern sky casting it’s milky light into the open spaces on the edge of the woods. In the deep shadowy crevices the cicadas and crickets wound down the night’s exuberance in a fading farewell hum.  I stood at the open window, basking in the slightly cool breeze coming down the mountain and relishing the silence when suddenly a series of piercingly eerie shrieks broke the spell.  The suddenness of it startled me, but my instinct was answer with my own crazy whoop and scream, which would surely have woken the house. Instead, I silently searched the branches of the tall, dark oak beside the house for the Cheshire Cat of raptors.

For three years I have relished the natural sounds of this woodland homestead nestled into the folded arms of the undulating ridge. And I am glad to know that the memory of its sounds were not erased by two years of city living and almost that many more travelling through well-populated Southeast Asia. Over time I had become accustomed to the sounds of the urban landscape – cars, construction, sirens, trains, revving engines, horns and always, other people.

It was just last week that a dear friend of mine posted a link to an article entitled, Wilderness Tonic and Eco-Ventures, on her Facebook page.  Having recently returned to the wilderness, the title caught my eye.  In the article, Randy Eady, a master-level instructor of bio-resonance and Targeted Vibro-acoustic applications (TvA), was making a case for sound as a tool for healing chronic and degenerative illnesses. And while many types of sound can relax and sooth the mind and body, Eady spoke specifically about sounds found in nature.

Whether as nomadic tribespeople, hunter-gatherers, explorers, pioneers, or farmers, humans have always lived alongside nature.  Even the infamous cities of ancient history were surrounded by great expanses of wilderness, which is why many had great walls built around them.  But even the great walls could not drown the omnipresent reality of nature and when compared to modern times, those eras were relatively devoid of non-living mechanical sounds.

Around the World - Copyright Jill Henderson - Show Me OzIn recent years, the concern for the rapidly degenerating health of children and young adults worldwide has led to what is commonly referred to as nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods.  And while the health of our young people is of utmost concern, this syndrome doesn’t affect just the young – adults, the elderly and even babies are all equally affected negatively by the mechanic and pervasive clamor of cities and a general lack exposure to nature and natural sounds.

Some of the dis-eases thought to be compounded by nature deficit disorder are chronic stress, insomnia, headaches and depression, as well as other equally misunderstood diseases such as ADD, HDD, post traumatic stress disorder and many others. Eady’s article focused on the need to increase young people’s exposure to nature by encouraging them to turn off the omnipresent gadgets and retreat from the industrial sounds of cityscapes and tune in to what he described as the “therapeutic soundscapes” of nature. I think this is true for all humans being.

And while some people will swear up and down they love living in the city and don’t in any way have a “nature-deficit”, many will also tell you how much they enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, boating or skiing.  They will try to deny their instinctive need for nature, but revel in a trip to the beach or the mountains, and enjoy nothing more than a long drive in the country to “get away”.  But it’s the get-away part that gives it away.  Get away from what?  The hustle and bustle, the traffic, the time clock, work (computers), cell phones, and even other people – all noisome, stressful components of the urban landscape.

Of course, it’s not impossible to find natural respite in an urban landscape and most cities have lovely parks, rivers, lakes and other natural areas specifically intended to sooth the eye and the  mind from the hardscape that surrounds them.  Even tending a garden in the backyard, growing a butterfly garden or feeding the birds can help reduce the nature-deficit – but it can’t replace, or even mimic, the complexity of nature in its purest form.  Over these last few years of living in the city, parks and greenways were often the only escape I had.  But even there, along the gurgling river or under the shade of tall trees, the mechanical drone of the city could still be heard and sometimes even felt in the form of vibration.

Image by Jill HendersonOut here in the backwoods where I am now, there are no traffic jams.  I haven’t seen another soul in a week and the most mechanical sound I’ve heard all day is the clicking of the computer keys as I write.  I was once a full-time city-dweller and for the last two years I have once again been totally immersed in the urban cityscape, but I never entertained the notion of not returning to the country.  And whether you buy into the concept of nature-deficit disorder or not, you probably buy into the longing for peace and quiet – which is the same thing said a different way.

So as I revel in my own return to nature and its ever-present sounds, I am clearly reminded of the differences between the city and the country.  The barred owl’s cry was like nature’s alarm clock.  It woke my soul to the reality of this place that I love so dearly.  It said, “Welcome home!”

And while country living isn’t for everyone, it is truly a healing balm for the mind, body and soul.  So whatever else we do, we should not forget to teach our young people about the ways and importance of nature, lest one day we turn to look and it is already gone.

Listen to the Barred Owl’s call here
Read Tonic and Eco-Ventures by Randy Eady
Reblogged from an earlier post in 2011.

© 2011, 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


AJOS-214x32813_thumb.jpgA Journey of Seasons

Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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13 responses to “The Sound of Nature

  1. Lovely Jill. The “natural” world is being in touch with REAL things, natural sounds and a true reminder of what many of us need to stay connected with. I’m sure after 2 years away…………it’s even more poignant and treasured. So happy to have you back among us again………………..

    • Thanks so much, Jerre, we’re so glad to be back. And especially glad to be among the wild things again. It is strange how one becomes accustomed to the sounds around them – even annoying city sounds. It’s only when we retreat to nature that we realize the difference between sound and noise.

  2. I’m glad you’re back in our ‘sound temple’ too. It struck me when you wrote: ‘ I wanted to whoop and scream right back into the night’ how healing that impulse might have felt. And doing it perhaps even more so, although D might not have agreed at that hour.

    I thought how we humans have our unique tones too though they are often masked, as so much else about us is, by our civilization. Even so, we can tell alot about someone by the subtle vibrational changes in their voice – I often notice it in myself and take it as a note to pay attention.

    Today I came across the Saqquara healing complex in ancient Egypt where both sound and water were apparently used to discover the signature of a suffering person and to offer a remedy. Which leads me to wonder if immersion in forest sounds somehow entrains us to a feeling of wellbeing!

    I’m so glad to see you’re already being inspired by the Ozark muse.

    • You have it right, Sara. We humans do have our own unique “tones”. And though we’ve been taught to attempt to control them, it’s not only difficult, but unhealthy. If humans can’t express themselves naturally, they become emotionally repressed. I think that’s why people swear. It’s not socially acceptable, but it’s an expression of intense emotion.

      I have always been fascinated by the groups of people that get together in some wild plance and just scream at the tops of their lungs (or laugh or make whatever sound that moves them). It’s a release that “civilized” people rarely partake in anymore.

      Me, I’m doing barred owl cries. In the city, you’d get sent to the nut house for that! So I’ve been practicing it all week… I think I’ve got it down now. Anyone care to join me?

      And it is healing.

  3. I was carried along by your melodic words to a lovely quiet place inside me, thanks so much for that Jill.

  4. Hi Jill, I just wrote about the “near miss of Hurricane Irene” here in SouthEast Florida as follows:

    “As an aside, but not too much so, we were fortunate with the hurricane passing by about 100 miles east of us that we only had the much needed rains and the cool breeze. The frogs behind my house “sprang to life” and I was nearly lulled instantly to sleep by the rush of wind through the palm frawns and the refrain of hundreds upon hundreds of croaking frogs in a magnificent symphony of the natural world…the deep bubbling ones, the high pitched ones, the intensely throbbing ones ~~ all competing in a confined “sonic sphere” to attract mates and morsels, yet exquisitely orchestrated in relation to the other’s vibrations.”

    And, I thought you’d find this new research, related to frog vibro-acoustics, surprisingly analogous to human mate selection:

    RESEARCH ARTICLE
    Multimodal signal variation in space and time: how important is matching a signal with its signaler?
    The Journal of Experimental Biology 214, 815-820
    © 2011. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
    doi:10.1242/jeb.043638

    “. . .For example, the perception of phonemes in humans is influenced by the pattern of lip movements that co-occur with the vocalization, known as the McGurk effect (McGurk and MacDonald, 1976). As a result, a perceived asynchrony may reduce the perceptual attractiveness of the call, causing females to discriminate against that male.”

    Report Concludes: “Our data suggest that although the visual cue is neither necessary nor sufficient for attraction, it can strongly modulate mate choice if females perceive a temporal disjunction relative to the primary acoustic signal.”

    Randy Eady

    • Glad to hear Irene missed you.

      Thanks for that wonderful information. I’ll check out the research article, it looks very interesting.

      As to the frogs singing; I know exactly what you mean. We have so many kinds of frogs here in the Ozarks and they just blow me away sometimes. I wrote in my book, A Journey of Seasons, about the time I creeped up to a spring peeper pond, curious to know what they would sound like so close. The sound was absolutely breathtaking – I could literally feel the vibrations throughout my entire body. What a rush!

  5. Had a similar “sensational” experience in the Wildlife Refuge on some early morning paddles. My canoe was often led by a phalanx of dragon flies skimming a river teeming with water lilies. There’d be cruising so close to the surface and feasting on hordes of mosquitoes — their wings actually vibrated the still water like a drum. When I was in a kayak, it’d make my “seat” and the soles of my bare feet tingle ~~

    • I have a really hard time with this. Aren’t there other means? Seems like “killing” is always a first choice (there seems to be a tendency to do this in many aspects of life lately). Mother Nature does need help from humans but there is a limit. Any alternative solutions our there? I love both species – just don’t want the barred owls to be hunted. LOVE their calls. I’m usually on the side of the oppressed but I want another solution for both species to prosper.

  6. I also am having a hard time reconciling the notion of killing owls to save other owls. I know the spotted owl is terribly endangered, but it seems to me that we just keep making things worse. Very sad.

  7. Pingback: Happy New Year & Thank You…for Everything! | Show Me Oz

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