When nature calls … no, really. How to embrace the sounds of an Alberta spring

·3 min read
Two loons float on the water. (Nancy Hamoud - image credit)
Two loons float on the water. (Nancy Hamoud - image credit)

It all started with an overnight trip in late April.

Calgary-based naturalist Brian Keating was just south of Pincher Creek, Alta., helping a film crew set up a session focused on the mating ritual of a sharp-tailed grouse.

He decided to stay the night outdoors with a view of aspen trees, blooming purple crocus and the snow-tipped Rocky Mountains in the distance.

After walking through the wildlife trails, and sitting on the shore of a nearby lake, it happened.

A pair of loons and a pair of trumpeter swans put on a musical like no other.

"I sat on the shore, silently, just watching," Keating said.

"What most impressed me was the quality of the audio experience. The clarity of the loons' calls especially. Nature sounds at their best."

All around him, the forest put on a performance.

There was the thump-thump-thump of a displaying ruffed grouse, the tap-tap-tap of some unseen woodpecker proclaiming its territory, and in the distance, a sandhill crane calling from some smaller lake or pond.

Absent from the experience, any human-made sound; no traffic, no people, no planes overhead.

Nature sounds good for well-being

As the season continues, Keating said the sounds will only be sweeter, especially when the aspen trees leaf out.

"That brings with it the associated bugs, providing food for warblers and other birds like wrens, which are yet to arrive."

It's a free concert that everyone has the opportunity to take-in if they go to the right places and take the time to listen to what nature can tell them.

Keating points to an article in the online journal Everyday Health by Elizabeth Millard, which focuses on a paper published a year ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It suggests nature sounds, like the sound of the wind through the branches of a forest, or the sound of a creek gurgling over a rocky bed, are the kinds of sounds that are not only calming, but can have profound benefits to our well-being.

The researchers looked at 18 studies investigating the health benefits of natural sound.

They found that natural water sounds — like a steady waterfall or a babbling brook — tended to be the most effective at improving positive affect.

This research adds to a substantial body of evidence that proximity to nature and time spent outdoors is good for human health and well-being.

"I have been promoting this positive benefit from being out there in nature for decades. My go-to comment to my wife when I have been over-committed: 'I just wanna go camping,'" Keating said.

Ways to get more nature in your life

If you can't get out into nature, Keating said there are other ways you can reap the benefits of nature's music.

Research published in June 2019 in Scientific Reports found that people who spent just two hours per week outside in a natural setting reported greater well-being compared with people who spent less time outdoors.

A November 2019 meta-analysis in Lancet Public Health funded by the World Health Organization pooled data from nine studies involving more than eight million people from seven different countries. The research showed that people who lived near or in green spaces tended to live longer than those exposed to less green space.

"This shows that you don't need to head out on a camping trip or even a hike to get the benefits of nature — even a short break filled with natural sounds and sights can be a refresher for the brain," Keating said.

"I actually don't really call it 'getting away from it all', but rather 'getting to it all'."

For more fascinating stories about Alberta's wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:

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