By Jill Henderson
This morning I woke at 4:00 am. The crescent moon was high in the eastern sky casting it’s milky light all about the open places on the edge of the forest. In the shadows the cicadas and crickets hummed softly as they wound down the night’s exuberance.
I stood at the open window, basking in the slightly cool breeze coming down the mountain, quietly relishing the moment, when suddenly a loud, piercing series of eerie shrieks, cries and warbles broke the gentle spell. The suddenness of the incredibly loud sound startled me, but I was not afraid. Just the opposite – I wanted to whoop and scream right back into the night. But I stood staring into the now silent forest trying to get a glimpse of the barred owl perched high in the white oak right outside my back door.
For two weeks now I’ve relished in the natural sounds of this woodland place. And I am glad to know that the memory of its sounds were not erased by two years of city living and travels through foreign lands. I had become accustomed to the sounds of the urban landscape – cars, construction, sirens, trains, revving engines, horns, and other people – a clatter of automatonic energies that are always associated with modern civilization.
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.
In 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 soe of the only escapes 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.
Out 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 this article. I was once a city-dweller and for the last two years I have 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 – be healed”.
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 gone.