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Listen for the voices of nature

Dec 16, 2012 - Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

Get away from the cacophony of the

man-made world, and you'll hear them.

The loudest sound in recorded history came on Aug. 26, 1883, when the island of Krakatoa in the Indonesian archipelago vaporized in a huge volcanic eruption. Krakatoa's disintegration was heard over 3,000 miles away in Hawaii a few hours later.

Noise surrounds us in the modern world. Generation X and Y can't seem to exist without a constant supply of digitally enhanced racket surrounding them at all time.

My own Baby Boomer generation is a demographic largely devoid of the gift of silence as well. Generations that preceded us had the opportunity to easily find solace within just a few steps of their daily existence.

But for most of the over seven billion people now calling the earth home, there is little escape from the noisy soundtrack of civilization.

Thankfully, we exist in a place where we can often pick and choose our own noise level.

My favorite time of day has always been in the waning hours of the late afternoon when day and night magically transform gradually from light to dark.

But, in the midst of this transition there is often another magical time when you hear things that are either silent during the light or drowned out by the commotion and noise of the day.

Sometimes, in the dim twilight, as I'm tossing bales of hay to our hungry cattle, I hear it. Voices on the wind.

The voices can come from any direction but on our place they usually originate a few hundred yards to the north as the local flocks of mallards and Canada geese find their way back to a neighbors' pond.

The pond is spring fed and at least a portion of it remains ice free through even the deepest cold, a perfect haven for migratory waterfowl that choose not to migrate.

I hear their voices carrying high above me, then listen closely as they descend a few hundred feet. If the cattle are quiet I can hear the birds hit the water, then produce just a slight slicing noise as they slide into the stillness of the early evening.

As a teen-ager, the sounds were even more distant on my parent's farm between Kinnear and Pavillion. The ducks and geese were the same but the background noise of distant traffic didn't exist.

One of my most memorable experiences was hunting ducks a few years ago near a large pond a few miles north of our house. In the distance you could see the traffic on the highway to Shoshoni.

Truck tires create a unique rattle as they roll along a frozen highway, and the distance created a disconnect with the event. By the time the noise of a semi truck reached us the truck disappeared behind a distant line of trees.

As a boy I watched a man chopping wood in the distance and noticed that each time he swung his ax it was quiet but as he arched it back over his head for another swing you could hear the steel striking the wood.

\I didn't understand the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound at the time but it was an interesting observation to see the soundtrack of the world misaligned by distance.

Voices on the wind can be soothing and disconcerting, sometimes at the same instance.

As a young man, teaching for the first time in Lusk, I would often take walks late at night to relax and clear my mind.

On those walks I would often hear the blast of the Burlington Northern as one of their trains rolled through. Now, a train goes through Lusk every 15 minutes all day long, but in the early 1980s trains weren't nearly so common.

The resonance of a train whistle in the dark hours of the night is one of the most forlorn echoes of the plains.

Peter, Paul and Mary sang about the phenomena of the lonesome train whistle with their song 500 miles.

"If you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles."

While some claim to hear a train whistle for outrageous distances, the limit for the 130 decibel blast of a locomotives' horn is about five miles in perfect acoustic conditions on a clear cold night.

Sound can be as deceptive to the ear as light can be to the eye. With our mortal senses we are often susceptible to the quirks of physics.

An acoustic shadow is a very strange phenomenon. If you find yourself in one there can be an eerie silence amidst a cacophony of noise. An acoustic shadow occurs when geography alters or prevents sound waves from reaching you. Experts refer to an acoustic shadow as a property of sound akin to a mirage being a property of light.

Perhaps a sound mirage is nature's answer to ventriloquism. It is a rare occurrence in the sharp edged world of desert and mountain that we call home, but it does exist even out here.

The voices on the wind are out there waiting to be heard. In the insane rat race we often find ourselves involved in we often simply choose not to listen.

But, if you take the time to get a bit of separation from the clamor of the artificial world the natural one will call to you. All you have to do is give nature a share of your existence and you'll be rewarded with a symphony as old as the stars. All you need to do is listen.

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