Once Upon a Time, In a Forest


I have always believed that powerful stories begin with deep listening. One such story is that of world-renowned wild soundscape recorder, Bernie Krause, whom I met at a reading I gave a couple of years ago in Sonoma.

Lincoln Meadow in the Sierra Nevada mountains sits at about 2,000 meters. In 1998 a logging company convinced local residents that no environmental impact would result from what they called “selective logging" of the surrounding forest.

Krause would discover differently. To the eye, the logging company’s claims appeared to be true––the forest and meadow looked undamaged. Kraus’ recordings revealed another story.

Before logging, the meadow at dawn resounded in birdsong. Afterward, it was silent. except for the creek that ran through it. The chorus of quail, sparrows, finches, and sapsuckers now reduced to the tapping of a distant woodpecker.

Over the past twenty-five years, Krause has recorded this place fifteen different times—at the same time of year, at the same time of day, under the same weather conditions. But the meadow has yet to fully regain its voice.

When we go to nature to listen deeply we hear what is crying out to be heard, acknowledged, and expressed.  In this way the certitude of the expert is replaced by the curiosity of the poet. The person who wonders, “What is this that moves me?”

Some will say that the  stories we bring home from the wild defy logic and reason. They will tell us that trees have no feelings, do not scream with thirst, or suffer when felled. They will tell us that we are too emotional in our recounting. They will tell us that the loss of a few old trees can’t possibly affect a meadow.

But we shall keep telling our stories. Like spores, some will be be carried light as air via a blog or a casual conversation. Who knows where these stories will travel or whom they will touch?

And then there are those stories that are like seeds. They grow in the dark duff of our souls, over time, until we are finally ready to give them voice. Because we put so much of ourselves into them, they are an expression of our whole being, as powerful as an intact forest.

More than anything, story touches people, shifts consciousness, makes us care for those other than ourselves. If you ever doubt that, think about Krause’s story. The meadow he spoke about has been silenced, but over one million people have watched Kraus' TED Talk and heard its song. Will they ever think about the natural world the same way again?