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The Woodsman: Feeling Stressed Out?
Listen to the Music of the Forest

By Steve Wilent

The Woodsman: Feeling Stressed Out?
Listen to the Music of the Forest

As any woodsperson knows, there is music in the woods and there is music of the woods. I once encountered the former in a wilderness in the Sierra Nevada. I set my backpack and myself down on a small sandy beach on a serene alpine lake and simply sat there in the sun, looking at the water reflecting blue the sky and the green bowl of the surrounding forest, feeling the stresses of modern life drain away. Then someone began playing a violin. I had thought I was completely alone, but no. That unseen person on a ridge on the other side of the lake had brought the instrument with them to this serene place, perhaps thinking that they, too, were alone, and put bow to strings. I was incensed. How dare that fiddling fiddler disturb my peace and quiet! Then I realized that this was not an average fiddle player, but a highly talented violinist. I don’t know what pieces they played, but as their exquisite music echoed around the lake I closed my eyes and let the notes wash over me. In a few moments I had forgiven them. I lay back on the warm sand and savored the virtuoso’s unexpected gift.
You can use all five senses in the out-of-doors: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. I’ve experienced profound silence in the woods in our area, such as on a certain rocky ridge with a fine view of Mt. Hood. On a still day on a trail in the mixed-conifer forest between Highway 35 and Dufur, the only sounds were an occasional insect buzzing or tiny bird peeping, and in between these sonic interruptions I imagined I could hear the trees growing. On a visit to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, on Highway 218 southwest of Fossil, I parked my car, turned off the engine, and stepped out into complete silence—no sound of any kind, as far as my ears could tell, except for the beating of my heart. I stood still and held my breath. The absence of anything audible was almost jarring, but also a revelation. What noisy lives we live.
By the way, a day trip to the Clarno Unit is well worthwhile, and not only for the quiet. Walk the trail below the sheer cliff walls and look for fossils of ancient plants — the area was a lush semi- tropical rainforest a mere 50 million years ago or so. While you’re in the area, don’t miss the Thomas Condon Visitor Center, in the monument’s Sheep Rock Unit on Highway 19, two miles north of the junction with Highway 26. The center’s museum offers exhibits of more than 500 fossils from the John Day Fossil Beds and scientifically accurate murals depicting the environments in which these plants and animals lived. And it’s very quiet inside.
Here in Hoodland, there are many places where silence reigns — say, on the boardwalk trail at the Wildwood Recreation site, though there is always the sound of the highway in the distance or an airliner overhead. And there are the sounds of people walking and talking on the trail — usually these are happy sounds, especially when young people express delight and wonder at being in the woods.
Perhaps the noisiest times on The Mountain are during the strongest of our winter storms. A high wind tearing through the very tall trees around my house sounds like a massive, rushing freight train. This river of air roars through millions of fir needles as the trees bend, and we flinch with the snapping of breaking branches and the thuds as they hit the roof. Rain, too, drums on the roof, and it is not the welcome gentle patter of our typical rainy days and nights.
From our house, Lara and I often hear the Sandy River, about 350 yards away, and sometimes
Clear Creek — pleasing susurrations. My rule of thumb for when heavy rain falls on low-elevation snow: If from my house I can hear boulders tumbling in the Sandy, then there is likely to be flooding downstream.
On most days, we are treated to pleasant sounds: The gentle soughing of breezes through the trees, bees buzzing among flowers as they seek nectar, and birds, many birds. In the last few months we have heard these and more: blue jays, crows, ravens, hawks, Oregon juncos, winter wrens, mountain chickadees, hummingbirds, band-tailed pigeons, American robins and their cousins the varied thrushes (sometimes called Alaskan robins), and pileated woodpeckers and their cousins the northern flickers. At night we count ourselves lucky to hear a barred owl or northern pygmy-owl. All of these sounds and more are worth relishing.
It’s not surprising that we find many sounds of the forest to be welcome. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, “Several studies suggested that nature’s sounds reduce stress hormones, boost positive mindset, and make us feel more comfortable and relaxed. Also, our negative moods lower while positive moods increase. Some research suggests that listening to nature’s sounds helps heal our body, restores its natural balance, boosts our mood, reduces anxiety, and increases a feeling of well-being.”
In these crazy times, nature’s sounds are more important than ever.
Google “sounds of nature” or the like and you’ll find numerous recordings of the same, all intended to help you relax and sleep better. Such recordings are great for city-dwellers or anyone who lives near a busy highway. Fortunately for most of us here in the forest, we can simply open our windows or go outside.
Have a question about the sounds of nature? What’s your favorite quiet place? Let me know. Email: SWilent@gmail.com.

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