Somewhere in Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold talked of a woman he knew who’d never heard migrating geese passing over her well insulated roof. The point Aldo was trying to make was one about awareness of our environment and how we often train ourselves (often through formal education) to be aware of only those things that are human and often in this age, things that are technological.
This is a type of training that can easily be overcome. No one is born ignorant of the small non-human sounds and sights all around us. Taking notice of ants or birds, a spider weaving its web in the doorway is the most natural thing. Children notice other animals (and plants) readily and easily while an adult’s more trained eye might slide over some magical critter without notice.
Sometimes part of the world reaches out and grabs our attention without any effort on our part. There are sights or sounds that are so eerie or intriguing they immediately fix our attention.
Years ago I visited Tasmania for a month and a half mostly just to see the island but also to spend a month WWOOFing on a farm and experience a different way of living. When the sun was dipping low over the forests of towering Eucalypts and delicate tree ferns a bizarre laughter drifted through the lonely corridors of trees. The laughter was the call of the laughing Kookaburra, a bird not native to Tasmania but introduced from mainland Australia. In the morning I often woke to the sounds of loud flocks of cockatoos.
I blogged before about the buzzing sound that woke Erin and I late at night in the lodge we were managing in Ecuador. At first we thought of rattle snakes, the sound was similar and the just wakened mind tries to grasp something familiar, however unlikely. It turned out that only a giant cockroach had flown in through our windows and was trapped on its back, buzzing in an effort to right itself. I released the creature onto our front porch without taking more from it than its photo.
Lately we’ve been living in a camper in Rapid City South Dakota. A camper isn’t a tent in the woods or even a lodge without electricity or glass in its windows but the walls are thinner than average house walls. The ’61 Shasta Compact we’re living in is definitely small enough to encourage us to go outside whenever we can. So I feel we notice more of the surroundings than people living in the houses around us. Several times morning and night we’ve watched owls in the trees of the neighborhood and only once have we seen anyone else outside watching. There was one particular night where we woke up to what sounded like laughter outside, a pretty creepy experience. The laughter started again, just a laugh by itself, no words or anything else; a maniacal, sinister sounding laugh I thought. Going outside we discovered another owl laughing down at us from a tree. For all I know the owl had its own sinister intentions but I’m not accustomed to fearing owls. I’m grateful for those times I’ve been surprised by the sounds of other creatures in the night. It’s worth a little sleep to be reminded humans aren’t alone on this planet.