Listening to far away

One of the things I enjoy about summer is the opportunity to take in the sounds of nature within my own neighborhood.  As I reflect on the way I’ve come to interpret the sounds outside my window I realize I use a similar process to interpret the goings-on around me at a variety of levels.    
My morning routine in the warm weather is to open my front windows and back door before doing some yoga and meditating.  The combination of introspective activities and sounds of the neighborhood coming alive makes for a nice contrast as I prepare for my day.

As the sun rises the birds do the same.  I don’t consider myself knowledgeable of the creatures that share the neighborhood with me but I have gotten to know some of them over time.  It is that lack of knowledge that makes it all the more interesting to listen to the sounds coming through my windows.  As the summer goes on, I find myself becoming aware of the changing patterns of activity outside my windows.  Some of the birds use the neighborhood as their summer home while others are just passing through.  I used to think that most of the birds I’m familiar with (robins, crows, cardinals, etc.) arrive in early spring, stay for
The summer, and fly South early in the fall.  The bird’s behavior has proven to be more varied and subtle than I had originally thought.  As the sun rises, the sound of birds, insects, and human activity makes for quite an active sounds cape.  Some of the birds have distinctive songs while others simply cheep and chirp.  Some appear to be solitary while others are social. 

Lessons learned:

At first listen, the sounds outside my window present themselves as a sonic wall.  As I explore those sounds they take on an intriguing depth and texture.  The variety of sounds tells only a limited story.  Distinguishing one sound from another, one creature from another, only provides an inventory of the sources of the sounds.  Another way of listening to the sounds outside my window is to listen to the layers of sound coming in my window.  I hear a solitary Cardinal near the house.  I routinely hear another solitary Cardinal singing a block or so away.  The crows cawing away to the north of my house make up one group while those to the southeast make up another.  The zillion chickadees, finches and wrens (If there’s a whole bunch of something, you can just say a zillion) in the bushes in the back yard make it hard to know if there is another group elsewhere in the neighborhood.

As I focus on the intersection between specific creatures and the layers of sounds, I apply patterns to what I am listening to.

From these patterns, I draw inferences regarding the behavior and relationships among the creatures:

  • Cardinals appear to be solitary creatures.
  • Hawks form in pairs.
  • Crows are social within their own kind.  They also seem to have great disdain for Blue jays.
  • Finches, wrens, and chickadees are very social among other creatures their own size.
  • A squirrel can sit in a tree and complain almost indefinitely.
    Applying the lessons:

As I reflect on what I’ve learned about the creatures in my neighborhood I am also struck by what I haven’t learned about the creatures in my neighborhood.  I’ve used the elements of time, space, and perspective to infer relationships among the various creatures.  Without all three of these dimensions my level of understanding would have much less clarity.  Having said that, I realize much of my understanding is really just speculation based on a very small sample size.

As I transfer the insights I’ve picked up from the sounds of nature I recognize my inferences are likely to be equally insightful and/or misguided.

  • The cars racing down the highway at rush hour seem to universally contain stressed out people.
  • It is a rare occasion to not find friendly people at a bus stop.
  • The very young children in the grocery store at 5:00 PM are almost universally crabby.
  • I can’t even imagine the psychic load carried by the young Syrian doctor I talked with last night.
  • I don’t talk politics with the people who participate in the Servant-Leader roundtables I facilitate, but I probably could.
  • We are more alike my friends than we are unalike (Maya Angelou)

The fact is I make assumptions based on the depth of knowledge I gather from the level of experience I have with my surroundings.  I hear the volume of traffic and make assumptions about the mindset of the drivers.  I know that little people often need a release after being in daycare all day.  And that, most people are happier when someone else does the driving.  In other situations I know to take a more measured approach to arriving at conclusions.  In any event, as the geese gather to make their journey South for the Winter, I am grateful for the time we’ve had and the lessons they have shared.

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