Arboretum News

Tune Out the Noise

We are losing the sound of silence.

Waterfall in September 2021 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Photo by Jason Boudreau-Landis.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Listen to silence. It has so much to say. ~ Rumi

Have you ever thought about silence as something we are losing? I am not talking about silence as the absence of sound, but rather as the absence of noise from our modern life. There is growing science that suggests the lack of silence contributes to our human distress and negatively impacts Nature as well – like masking mating calls and interrupting other survival cues.

Scientists who believe silence is on the verge of extinction are out collecting vast quantities of digital data as part of soundscape ecology – that is, the science of sounds in the landscapes. One of the scientists working to preserve the Earth’s natural acoustic heritage is Dr. Bryan C. Pijanowski (the director of Purdue’s Center for Global Soundscapes).  He defines soundscapes as being composed of biological utterances (such as bird calls) and human sounds (like automobiles) – all of which reflect acoustically the patterns and processes of the landscape. 

Pijanowski and others are working with these sound samples to measure and determine the difference between a healthy landscape from an unhealthy landscape. Their research is helping public health officials, city planners and healthcare policy makers understand how essential it is to our human health and wellbeing to preserve sound as part of our sense of place and nature connection. Soundscape researchers fear the more inured we are to urban sounds, the greater we are severing the acoustic link we have with nature. 

As I consider a world where silence is extinct, I have set an intention to be more present and attuned to the landscape and the space around me in my daily walk.  I recognize now, more than ever, how natural sounds are a resource worth my attention and protection.  I invite you to experience place through sound by simply being present, open and curious to the soundscape around you too.

1 comment on “Tune Out the Noise

  1. what an interesting concept. thank you. enjoyed the read.

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