Sounds of the Backcountry

This weekend, my roommate and I had to complete our last backpacking trip for Davidson Outdoors’ Trip Leader Training course.  As I was falling asleep, it occurred to me how much noise humans cut themselves off from by living inside of buildings.  While I think of the backcountry as being a much more peaceful place than the front country, it still comes with its own set of unique noises.  It occurred to me how unnatural it must be to fall asleep in the silence that people have come to expect when going to bed, and I wonder if this is a phenomenon that started when humans moved from sleeping out in the elements to sleeping inside of shelters that are more soundproofed from the outside world.

One of the noises that was most noticeable to me as I was falling asleep was the sound of the wind moving softly through the trees.  It was a pretty calm and warm night, so I was actually really surprised to hear wind because I hadn’t noticed the wind as we were setting up our tent.  This made me wonder if the idea of stillness is actually an illusion.  Certainly, the noises of the night gave an impression of anything but stillness.  There was a richness to the nighttime soundscape that I had never actually consciously thought about or noticed, and it made me wonder exactly how much connection with the outside world humans as a species have lost by moving indoors.  The idea of falling asleep in relative silence has become sort of expected by most people (although it occurs to me that people living in big cities probably disagree with this.  Being from the outskirts of a very small town, I have always expected relative silence around bedtime), but it occurs to me that falling asleep in silence is actually a relatively unnatural and recent phenomenon.

Similarly, waking up in the backcountry is so much easier for me than it is in the front country.  At a certain point in the morning, the change in soundscape becomes tangible, as all of the diurnal animals come out and begin to make noise.  The morning noise of birds calling in the woods is so much louder and noticeable in the woods than it is in an urban setting.  While birds do call in urban settings, those bird calls make up a much smaller part of the overall soundscape than they do in the backcountry.  In the woods, the morning bird calls seem to become their own presence, and almost seem to make up the soundscape.  There is no separating the bird calls from the rest of the soundscape of the woods in the morning in springtime.  This is very different from the front country where the sound of birds is never loud enough to actually wake me up.  In the backcountry, the bird calls served as a signal for me to get up and begin preparing for the rest of the day.

Spending time in the backcountry and concentrating on the noises that I heard there made me really think about how isolating it is for humans to live in small enclosed spaces that cut them off from the outside soundscape.  I wonder how much more productive I would be able to be if, instead of living inside, I moved outside and became more in tune with the natural environment around me.