Seeing this photo of an elephant family on Smithsonian magazine’s Tumblr reminds me of an observation by the acoustic biologist Katy Payne, who spent most of her years researching elephants in the Dzanga clearing:
"Families in elephants are females related to one another, sometime three, even more, generations who live together and take care of each other’s young — a very tight, very integrated community. The males are considered to be outside the families, even though they are of course progenitors, but they live a very different kind of social life that involves competition between themselves. Most of the calls we found — although there were some calls associated with aggression, some calls associated with moving from one place to the next, very many of them were calls between calves and their mothers or their aunts or their cousins."
Korli Swart (Los Angeles, CA); Addo, South Africa
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."
—John Muir, from The Yosemite
About the photo: The Saar River forms this wondrous loop (Saarschleife) in Germany. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
We’re fascinated with outer space, but there’s a place on earth that’s just as alien — and just as mysterious. It’s the bottom of the ocean, and Sylvia Earle has walked there:
"[I walked] on the bottom, two and a half hours, and I later spoke with an astronaut friend, Buzz Aldrin, and he said, ‘Well, that’s about as long as we had to walk on the moon, two and a half hours.’ But what they did not have on the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong and those who came later, they didn’t have just this avalanche of life, this great diversity all around. Everywhere you looked, there were little fish with lights down the side. Of course, the corals themselves are alive. There were little burrows of creatures that were dwelling in the sediments on the sea floor. The water itself is like minestrone, except all the little bits are alive."
And that life of the ocean sustains all life on earth. Sylvia Earle takes us there with singular urgency and passion.
If you’ve never heard this soundscape meditation with Gordon Hempton, I implore you to listen to this aural hike through the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park to One Square Inch of Silence — with the chirping twitter of the Western wren and the haunting call of the Roosevelt elk:
"Good things come from a quiet place: study, prayer, music, transformation, worship, communion. The words peace and quiet are all but synonymous, and are often spoken in the same breath. A quiet place is the think tank of the soul, the spawning ground of truth and beauty.
A quiet place outdoors has no physical borders or limits to perception. One can commonly hear for miles and listen even farther. A quiet place affords a sanctuary for the soul, where the difference between right and wrong becomes more readily apparent. It is a place to feel the love that connects all things, large and small, human and not; a place where the presence of a tree can be heard. A quiet place is a place to open up all your senses and come alive.
Sadly, though, as big as it is, our planet offers fewer and fewer quiet havens. …
In 1984, early in my recording career recording nature sounds, I identified 21 places in Washington state (an area of 71,302 square miles) with noise-free intervals of 15 minutes or longer. In 2007, only three of these places remain on my list. Two are protected only by their anonymity; the third lies deep within Olympic National Park: the Hoh Rain Forest in the far northwest corner of the continental United States. I moved near the Hoh in the mid-1990s just to be closer to its silences. In the Hoh River Valley, nature discovery occurs without words or even thoughts — it simply happens. Wondrously. But you have to listen.
And to do that, you first have to silence the mind.”
If you can, be sure to listen with a pair of headphones or earbuds. You’ll discover quieting sounds you might miss without them. I promise! Download the MP3 and share it with your friends.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There are answers in the silence. I feel the presence of everything, nothing shouts importance. Quiet is quieting.
On one of the loudest holiday weekends of the year, a show about the importance of silence. Being a boy from the Dakota prairie, this week’s show with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton just tugs at my heart strings.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Uncertainty, when accepted, sheds a bright light on the power of intention. That is what you can count on: not the outcome, but the motivation you bring, the vision you hold, the compass setting you choose to follow.
Our intention and our resolve can save us from getting lost in grief. … When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true dimensions, for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. We discover how speaking the truth of our anguish for the world brings down the walls between us, drawing us into deep solidarity. And that solidarity with our neighbors and all that lives is all the more real for the uncertainty we face. When we stop distracting ourselves, trying to figure the chances of ultimate success or failure, our minds and hearts are liberated into the present moment. And this moment together is alive and charged with possibilities.
—Joanna Macy, from her Tricycle essay “The Greatest Danger”
One of the shows I’m proudest of pitching, producing, and getting played on national public radio is this interview Krista Tippett did with Ms. Macy. Her name had come up anecdotally years before for a show on “the soul in depression” when Krista interviewed poet Anita Barrows.
When one hears a phrase like “The Great Turning” in a pitch session, veteran journalists may shy away (or run) from it. It’s somewhat difficult to make concrete and can sound rather soft and puffy. To some degree, this is true. But, my task was to acknowledge this response from our executive producer and staff — and then describe it, explain it more plainly, and make sure all knew why her voice is different. And then emphasize its importance and her wisdom as an elder this world needs to hear from ever so much.
What a magnificent few minutes of bird watching. I’m not a birder, per se, but the breadth and array of birds in Spain is remarkable — so many species and types of habitats. The filmmaker must have traveled thousands of miles getting these shots:
- Riglos and Valle de Tena (Pyrenees, Huesca)
- Bardenas Reales (Navarra)
- Montes de Toledo and Andújar (Jaén)
- Albufera de Valencia and Dénia
- Tablas de Daimiel (Ciudad Real) and Doñana (Huelva)
- Coast of Murcia and AlmeriaBeing an American, it’s the Spanish Imperial Eagle that captured my imagination: large, powerful, majestic. (Oh, you’ll know it when you see it!) It’s something to behold. Here’s a list of all the species in order of appearance:
- Bubo bubo
- Gypaetus barbatus
- Tichodroma muraria
- Chersophilus duponti
- Otis tarda
- Falco naumanni
- Pterocles orientalis
- Bucanetes githagineus
- Cercotrichas galactotes
- Aquila adalberti
- Sylvia hortensis
- Aegypius monachus
- Cyanopica cyana
- Galerida theklae
- Sturnus unicolor
- Dryocopus martius
- Dendrocopos leucotos
- Phylloscopus bonelli
- Serinus citrinella
- Montifringilla nivalis
- Pyrrhocorax graculus
- Prunella collaris
- Luscinia svecica
- Merops apiaster
- Upupa epops
- Circus pygargus
- Larus genei
- Porphyrio porphyrio
- Oxyura leucocephala
- Marmaronetta angustirostris
- Phoenicopterus ruber-Platalea leucorodia
- Grus grus
A Twitterscript with Gordon Hempton
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On March 7, 2012, the audio ecologist and “soundtracker” Gordon Hempton found his way to a comfy-quiet public radio studio in Seattle to speak with our host, Krista Tippett, via ISDN line. We live-tweeted some of the best verbal nuggets from this conversation. What are your favorites?
Quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
—Aldo Leopold (1887– 1948), from A Sand County Almanac, published posthumously in 1949 one year after Leopold’s death.
This widely cited book is considered a landmark in the American conservation movement for its call to create a land ethic. Leopold wanted to understand humanity’s relationship with and obligations to the natural world. He is also known as the "father of wildlife management." The naturalist and author would have been 125 years old today.