Space for Life has been concerning itself this year with the notion of habitat. In that context, the organization is coordinating “Human and Nature Encounters,” unique opportunities for getting in touch with our environment and for gaining a better understanding of who we share it with. Accompanied by specialists Jean-Philippe Gagnon, an impassioned biologist and ornithologist; Catherine Guastavino, a researcher specializing in psychoacoustics; Romain Dumoulin, an acoustician; and biologist Marika d’Eschambeault, some fifty people undertook the “Dawn Stroll” on July 14, where the focus fell on our sense of hearing.
Showing up before daybreak, participants were invited to disconnect from their electronic devices when they were welcomed at the Jardin botanique site before setting off on their walk. “The welcome was important,” stresses Jean-Philippe Gagnon, “because people had to be predisposed to what they were being presented with. They were invited to disconnect in order to enjoy an enveloping, intimate experience.”
In the course of a walk that lasted close to two hours, participants moved among eight different stations, at which they could discover various acoustic landscapes. “They were asked to concentrate on three different sources of sound,” Jean-Philippe Gagnon continues.
“The first involved the noises of nature, the song of birds or frogs, for example. These were noises generated voluntarily, most often by animals. Next there were the sounds of physical origin, like the one caused by the wind in the branches of a tree, or the flowing of a stream. Here we’re not talking about sounds produced willingly, but rather the result of the interaction among various elements in nature. Then, there were those made by humans, whether by voice, machines, or the city itself.”
During their stroll, walkers were called on to experience the ability of the human ear to position sounds in space, to appreciate the shades of the sounds they heard and to better understand how the physical features of one’s location influence sounds. By starting the walk in the dark, people could very clearly hear the evolution of sounds in connection with the level of light. For instance, birds sing more loudly in the dark, while humans speak more softly – as participants were quick to notice!
“The advantage of being accompanied by professionals is that people’s hearing can be directed towards sounds they wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to. We can sense things further away than our immediate surroundings. When someone is asked to listen to the song of a cardinal or of a goldfinch that that person can’t see but nonetheless manages to hear, it’s smiles guaranteed.”
Participants really enjoyed their experience. Some of them developed an awareness of the different types of noise all around us and expressed their willingness to make some changes in their environment in order to ease the din of day-to-day living somewhat. By experiencing sunrise this way and keeping their ears open, other participants said they felt extremely relaxed. Perhaps because the exercise is so rooted in the present moment, and break of day happens so gently… They say that the early bird catches the worm; possibly it’s just as true that the future belongs to those who get up early!
A few tips for listening to nature
Did you miss out on this adventure but would still like to take the time to listen to nature? Here are a few tips suggested by Jean-Philippe Gagnon.
1) Prepare yourself: put yourself in a state that’s conducive to listening by being as quiet as possible.
2) Close your eyes: the tendency of our brain is to have us notice sounds that originate in what we’re looking at. When we close our eyes we’re more likely to hear everything around us.
3) Get started early: that’s when nature wakes up! Also, this way you get to enjoy a sound environment that isn’t too disrupted by traffic and by human hubbub.