As spring dawns across North America and COVID-19 rages through our country, we are facing numerous novel stressors, be they economic, psychological or physical. Confined to our homes, we can’t flock to the outdoor places we usually do as the weather warms. But it’s also during this time that such natural places, and their sights and sounds, can provide the greatest solace.
The therapeutic nature of natural sounds is well recognized: Listening to natural sounds has been shown to increase mood, boost productivity, lower blood pressure and decrease stress — all of which promote a stronger immune system. The importance of natural sound immersion is particularly heightened in periods of increased stress and uncertainty, when it can serve to decrease the negative repercussions of that stress and provide a mindfulness "reset."
Part of our work with the Sound and Light Ecology Team at Colorado State University has been to highlight the rejuvenating power of landscapes of natural sounds, or soundscapes, and bring the wonder of the natural sounds of our nation’s wildest places to more people. Over the past decade, we have captured some of the most spectacular natural soundscapes in public lands and, particularly, in national parks.
These spaces exist for all to enjoy and benefit from, but the importance of their soundscapes are often overlooked. While social distancing measures currently limit access to many protected green spaces around the country, people can interact with and benefit from them by listening to the many natural soundscape recordings we’ve made.
By making these recordings publicly available, we want to raise awareness of the beauty we’ve found through the soundscapes, highlight the species you’ll hear, share where they can be found and explore the threats that they face. We are providing gateways to the outdoors, the first steps towards familiarizing ourselves with wild places again. Each of these gateways is open, now, to explore and experience from your home.
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Just listen: as the sun slowly brightens the eastern sky, soundscapes across the country — including those of Sequoia, Yellowstone, and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks — fill with choruses of singing birds. Each one of these dawn choruses is unique to the individual park. The chorus echoes through the world’s tallest trees in Sequoia, begins abruptly and reaches a startlingly quick crescendo in Hawai’i Volcanoes, and is composed of secretive, seldom-seen marsh birds in Yellowstone.
Moving water, whether it’s a rhythmic tide or a bubbling stream, is one of the most relaxing of natural sounds. Water paired with life provides a unique experience like this recording of the calming sound of honeybees drinking from a tiny, ephemeral creek in the foothills of southern California. Experience the power of oceanic waves crashing against a fishing pier on the Oregon coast. Or, trek into the north woods of Minnesota to sit beside a windy boreal lakeshore in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or wait out a passing thunderstorm in a tent under old-growth pines in Voyageurs National Park.
Our familiarity with the continent’s carnivores often has been relegated to myth and fantasy, as these animals are typically limited to the great wilderness areas in our country. But hearing their voices is a true wonder. Join in with the deeply stirring howling of a pack of wolves into the night, the genesis of the 8 p.m. wolf call to mark solidarity with our health care workers emanating across the country. Sit only yards from a pack of coyotes as they call out into the cold stillness of a January morning. Or, listen as a lone coyote is moved to howl by the ferocity of the elk rut at its peak during an autumn morning in the Rocky Mountains.
Natural sounds at night are just as numerous and unique as those during the day. Crouch beside an ancient bayou deep in Jean Lafitte National Park and be overwhelmed by a rich chorus of countless frogs and insects. Venture into the sky islands of southern Arizona to sit below the roost of the world’s most diminutive owl as it signals its mate. Bring the camping experience into your living room and sit beside a wilderness campfire as it burns to embers alongside the haunting calls of Common Loons and other nocturnal animals.
As we begin to imagine what our world looks like on the other side of shelter-in-place, we have a chance to slow down and intentionally listen to these wonderful sounds without distraction; to reconnect with the natural places around us that are critical for the well-being of the planet and ourselves.
During the early and mid-20th century, conservationist and photographer Ansel Adams created a series of iconic photographs of the national parks that piqued the nation’s imagination. His work spurred thousands to visit our wild places with new enthusiasm and curiosity, and to tap into the ancient connections we all share with the land. This movement also left an indelible impact on wild land conservation in the United States.
Our recordings hold this same potential. Just by slipping on a pair of headphones, we can again feel wonder and awe of the nation’s most treasured lands. We can be inspired to reconnect with the natural world and speak up for its protection, while also advocating for our own well-being.
We urge you —when this crisis passes and it’s safe — to get out and explore our natural places. To make an effort to slow down and listen, to hear a new perspective of our natural lands and natural heritage. In the meantime, stay home and enjoy these sounds from the safety of your favorite nook. Hit "play," close your eyes, reduce your stress, and in turn, give your immune system a boost. We could all use it.
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