by Dr. Theresa Sweeney Ph.D. Ecopsychology
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?” My friend and I jokingly debated this age-old question on our way into the woods for an afternoon hike.
We walked together for awhile before coming to a familiar fork in the path. One leg led to a small pond the other up and over a ravine. This day my friend was attracted to scaling the ravine but I was feeling rather tired and wanted to take the easier trek towards the pond. So we split up agreeing to meet at the water in a couple of hours.
When I reached the pond I sat down to rest in a comfortable hollow between the protruding roots of a tall tree. My fingers found a nearby stick and began mindlessly twirling it. I closed my tired eyes to soak in the peaceful silence of the woods but no sooner had I done so when a red-winged blackbird broke the stillness. Careeeeee. Careeeeee, it cried repeating the phrase over and over. A bit annoyed with its monotonous shreek I decided to look for some attraction in it and focused on synching my breath with its rhythm. A few moments later a distant crow sounded. Caw…Caw, it called out. Caw…Caw. In what seemed like deliberate intention the timing of its caws happened to fit perfectly between the pauses of the blackbird’s notes. Careeeeee. Caw-Caw. Careeeeee. Caw-Caw. The two voices were rather catchy together and I found myself actually enjoying the melody.
The birds were conversing away when a frog in the nearby pond started to croak. Suddenly it was as if someone had just flicked off the mute button on the forest and sounds were now coming at me from all directions. Pond toads started to squeal in that high-pitched song they make when they mate. Hot bugs woke up and buzzed. Perhaps thinking that this little forest band needed a drummer a woodpecker began drilling overhead. Slowly at first then faster then slower again tapping the bark in musical beat with it all. Even the wind joined in causing the leaves of the hardwoods to rustle and prompting the pines to whistle. The synchronistic sounds of these diverse entertainers was very pleasing and I found myself clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth adding another layer of harmony. By now I was totally lost in the glory and unity of the moment.
Sometime later I opened my eyes and caught glimpse of my hand. It was still twirling that stick I had picked up when I first sat down. Oh my gosh, I smirked. Could I have been the one who started this little symphony in the first place? The forest had been so quiet when I first got here. Were the creatures responding to the waving of my stick like an orchestra heeds a conductor‘s baton? I sat there in stunned observance and wonder.
As I contemplated this happy possibility I felt a tap on my shoulder. It startled me and I jumped. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you”apologized my friend. “Were you sleeping?” “Hardly” I said, surprised that two hours had passed so quickly. “No I was making music.” “Huh” said my friend. “I didn’t hear anything.” “Perhaps if a band began jamming in the forest and you were not around to hear it, it didn’t make a sound,” I said, feeling so glad that I was around, and did hear!
It’s been awhile now since I had this memorable experience in the woods. It is special to me because it taught me that:
1) I have the power to find attraction in every un-attraction and make myself feel better.
2) Whatever I personally sense in Nature is my Truth and can be absolutely trusted regardless if anyone else confirms or agrees with it. Similarly I must respect other’s peoples personal Truths, thus challenging a lot of my wrangler issues with trying to control other people or to prove myself right.
3) I don’t have to fear the future. It’s okay to not know all the answers. There is excitement and joy in being open to life unfolding on life’s terms. All I have to do is show up and expect the miracles.