The Sound of Silence

Last week we had the pleasure of going on a nature walk with Lincoln Conservation Director Tom Gumbart. He led us along the same path we've walked many times this fall, but this time teaching us how to approach the woods with all of our senses. This picture shows the students as they stop in a clearing, become silent, close their eyes, and count on their hands the unique sounds they hear. It's amazing how many different things you can hear when you really listen carefully!

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times recently on this exact topic. David Haskell, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist in Tennessee, has spent years being quiet in the woods and simply observing the world around him. His approach strikes a balance between scientific inquiry and a sort of nature-based mindfulness. The article is based on Haskell's recently published book, The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature.

As we think about the work our own students do in the woods, it's important to remember the balance: We use the woods for scientific exploration and investigation. Yet, at the same time, we encourage the children to quietly appreciate with all their senses what surrounds them. Tom's guided walk was inspirational because he helped us recognize the power of both these approaches and he showed us that they are not mutually exclusive. Quieting down and tuning in makes us peaceful and also makes our observations keener and more accurate.