Author Archives: David George Haskell

Sounds Wild and Broken published today

Dear Ramble blog subscribers,

My next book, Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and The Crisis Of Sensory Extinction, is published today. Frogs, orcas, violins, ancient flutes, city noise, rainforests, oceans, the different sonic vibes of continents, and the innovations of baby babble: the book is a joyful celebration of sonic creativity and diversity. I also explore how listening might heal some of the brokenness of our world.

I invite you to join me in the pages of the book. Sounds Wild and Broken is on sale now at your favorite indie bookstore and online here.
(UK readers: publication date is April 21st)

Need some ear food to get a sense of one of the book’s themes? Join me in a 40-minute narrated sonic journey When the Earth Started to Sing with Emergence Magazine. Also available through all podcast platforms. I wrote the narration. Sound design by Matt Mikkelsen, Jonathan Kawchuk. Produced by Emmanuel-Vaughan-Lee.

Here is what early reviews and endorsements of the book say:

Sounds Wild and Broken is a symphony, filled with the music of life. It is fascinating, heartbreaking, and beautifully written.” Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

“A joyous celebration of the music of life… Sparkling prose conveys an urgent message.” Starred review, Kirkus Reviews. Read full review here.

“captivating…The science stories in Sounds Wild and Broken offer one delight after another.” Kathleen Dean Moore reviewing in Scientific American.

“Whether describing the human brain or the ways different conifer forests change the voices and crooked beaks of red crossbills…Haskell speaks a celebratory poetry of nature” Michael Ray Taylor reviewing in Chapter 16.

“With persistent intelligence and understated wit, Haskell uncovers one subtle mystery after another, forming a gorgeous argument for protecting all we long to hear.” Colleen Mondor for Booklist

“Listen to David Haskell:  He will transform the way you hear the world.  Haskell is one of those rare scientists who illuminates his topic—the magnificent natural sonic diversity of our planet, what we have to gain from its richness, what we have to lose from its diminishment—in lyrical, erudite prose that both informs and inspires.  This masterful book is a gift of deep aural understanding and a resplendent read.” Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds and The Bird Way

“A stunning call to reinhabit our ancient communion with sound. David George Haskell’s gorgeous prose and deep research meld wonder with intellect, inspiring reverence, delight, and a sense of urgency in protecting aural diversity. The voice of the earth is singing with beauty and need—Haskell shows us the extraordinary gift and responsibility of being available to listen.” Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit, and Mozart’s Starling

“This is how scientific writing should be, and almost never is: suffused with wonder and pathos, throbbing with the music of the wild. Haskell conducts a magnificent symphony here. He shows us – no, lets us hear – that we are resonant animals in a thrillingly resonant universe, and that our fulfilment depends on finding the frequency that will make us resonate with everything else. His superb book sent me on my way singing, and trying to join in with the songs I heard on the way.” Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast and Being a Human

“In Sounds Wild and Broken, David George Haskell once again expands our sensory universe, revealing not only the grand variety of earthly song, music, and speech but the astonishing ways in which sound originates, evolves, and binds us together. His careful listening will sharpen your ears.” Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

“In luminous prose, David Haskell teaches us to hear the beauty and tragedy of the whole history of life on Earth. Sounds Wild and Broken will change the way you listen to nature and to yourself, and may this help us heal our planet before it’s too late.” David Rothenberg, author of Nightingales in Berlin and Why Birds Sing

“This brilliant book—and I don’t use the term lightly—will change the way you hear everything. Haskell takes us deep inside the minds and music of human and non-human life, revealing one marvel after another, and makes a powerful case for conservation that not only preserves species, but the sensory experience of life itself.” Jonathan Meiburg, musician and author of A Most Remarkable Creature

The voices of birds

Dear Friends,

What might we learn from the language of birds? How might we listen to and understand the many meanings of their speech? These are the questions I explore in two pieces published in the new Language issue of the wonderful Emergence Magazine:

The Voices of Birds and the Language of Belonging
“When bird and human minds connect, a new language is born…”
An essay on many marvels and meanings of bird sounds. The written essay is accompanied on the site by an audio piece in which I narrate the essay alongside the voices of dozens of bird species. To make this sonic experience, I spent several weeks weaving my field recordings with some from Gordon Hempton’s amazing library of sounds. The essay is accompanied by artwork by Obi Kaufman capturing the essence of each birds’ presence.

Five Practices for Listening to the Language of Birds
“When bird language entered my life, I felt that a new sense had been grafted into me…”
A short essay on how to listen to birds, accompanied by Obi Kaufman’s artwork by and an avian soundscape.

In the same Language issue are essays, artwork, interviews, film, and other media by Elizabeth Rush, Robert Macfarlane, Katie Holten, Charles Foster, Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder, Camille Dungy, Paul Kingsnorth, Linda Hogen, Ellen Litwiller, and others.

Many thanks to Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Bethany Ritz, Adam Loften, and their colleagues for editorial work and  counsel on my essays.

I have found Emergence Magazine to be an amazing resource to share with students. If you’re a language educator, this current issue has much food for fruitful and expansive discussions about the many natures of language. The magazine’s creative mix of writing, spoken word, visual art, film, and sound design also provides much classroom material for discussions about the relationships between form and content.

I wish you the best, and many wonderful sonic bird encounters, in this summer season.

EM bird image

Trees, ecological memory, and seasonal rituals

CaptureDear Friends,

As the solstice approaches, I write with a few short updates.

Holiday trees and gratitude in The New York Times:
Fir trees, olive oil, yule logs: the aromas of holiday traditions evoke deep memories. I write about the ecological meanings of these experiences today in an op-ed.
Recommended reading short-list for the winter:
The following essays and books are, I think, important and beautiful. Well worth your time:

Two essays by David Abram in the amazing new Emergence Magazine. Magic and the machine and Creaturely migrations on a breathing planet.

To Those Who Were Our First Gods, a new chapbook by poet Nickole Brown.

Lauret Savoy‘s Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape.

Michael McCarthy‘s The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.

Reader, Come Home. The Fate of the Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf.

The Songs of Trees and The Forest Unseen are both available in paperback:

In local, independent bookstores. Find one at IndieBound
Also: AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks-A-Million, iBooks

Many thanks! I send my best wishes for the solstice season.

David

An elder: Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata)

Elevation 12000 feet, on what the current human occupants call Mount Goliath. The oldest known tree in Colorado germinated in the 4th century BCE. Youngsters in many stands are from the 1600s AD.

Do these trees live “a long time”? Perhaps this is the wrong thought. They live not such much a long time, but in a different time. Every creature has its rhythm. For life, time is not one thing, its passage is context-dependent. For the bristlecone pine, a needle ticks its clock on a scale of fifteen cycles of summer sun and water. A sapling builds its woody core through one hundred springs. The trees call us out of our own time scale, drawing the imagination into a tempo incommensurate with our own.

A dusky flycatcher sings from the tree top, the details of the cadences of its song ungraspable by my nerves. But the bird’s nerves live in a different geometry and velocity than mine. Another time. For a bird, and more so for a microbial cell, we are the bristlecones, ancient reminders of a mostly forgotten history.  At any one place in the world: thousands, perhaps millions, of times coexist.

Under the pine roots: Precambrian rocks. Ten billion new moons, a billion winters, a quadrillion cellular divisons.

The pines:

 

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(last photo: rings from fallen tree sliced open in visitor center)

 

2018 John Burroughs Medal: The Songs of Trees

The Songs of Trees has been awarded the 2018 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing. I’m honored that the book has been recognized in this way and feel very humbled to have the book listed among the list of awardees.

The book was also selected as Best Science Books of 2017 by NPR Science Friday and Favorite Science Books of 2017 by Brain Pickings.

I’m so grateful for the support of my readers. It is an honor and delight to be able to share these stories of the interconnections among trees and people.

Thank you.

And now, back to the woods where the first bloodroots are pushing into the rain-drenched litter.

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Autumn at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

En route to giving a lecture, I stopped by the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. The trees are in their full autumnal splendor:

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Are these trees pitiful captives? In The Songs of Trees I argue, no, the trees — some hundreds of years old — have exchanged the community of a forest for the community of human care. A merger of lives.

Eyes on hemlock

I was in Vermont this weekend for the Northern Woodlands conference (for those not familiar with the group, I highly recommend their wonderful magazine and impressive programs). Along the way I saw wonders: Healthy eastern hemlocks!

After seeing mountainsides of hemlock reduced to browned standing dead trees in the Southern Appalachians, these trees were a balm for my eyes and mind. The cause of tree mass die-offs is the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect introduced from Japan. The adelgids pierce hemlock leaves with their needle-like mouthparts, drawing down the trees’ energy reserves and causing dehydration. In the space of a decade, hemlock went from being one of the more common trees in many eastern forests to being an ecological ghost.

Native birds and tree-dwelling insects depend on the hemlock. Less obvious are the dependencies of aquatic creatures. Hemlock shades mountainside streams, cooling the water. Cool streams hold more oxygen than warmer ones, so hemlock death can cause streams to become less welcoming to insects, salamanders, and fish. Hemlocks also soak up rainfall and evaporate moisture back to the air. Their loss has changed the rhythms and amplitudes of water flowing from the mountains.

Much of Vermont is too cold for the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, so hemlocks continue to thrive. Warmer winters and an endless supply of new insects from the south will present a challenge in coming years. For now, the northern woods are the hemlocks sanctuary, and thereby a refuge for the many other species that depend on hemlocks.

US Forest Service range map of hemlock woolly adelgid (2016). The insect continues to move west but cold temperatures keep the invasive species out of northern forests.

9/11 Tribute in Light: bird monitoring.

You can see them from sixty miles away: twin beams of light reaching from lower Manhattan into the highest visible reaches of the sky. The beams burn through the night on September 11th, a memory, a tribute in light made from 88 7000W xenon bulbs.

Also in the New York skies in mid-September: hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. From afar, the beams look to the birds like…we don’t know…perhaps moonlight, or a gleam of sun out of place, or a streak of magnetic weirdness across the birds’ inner eye. The birds are drawn to the beams, then snared by the light. Look up from the ground and you see hundreds of circling birds. Through binoculars, the higher parts of the beams are so full of birds that the clouds of illuminated bodies look like the Milky Way in motion. Thousands of warblers, orioles, woodpeckers, and thrushes, each turned to a silvery mote.

I joined NYC Audubon to monitor and count birds at the tribute. We watched from the Battery Rooftop Garden, a terrace filled with fruit trees and vegetable beds 34 stories above the street, right next to the beams.

When the bird count got too high, the operators of the 9/11 memorial extinguished the beams for a few minutes, allowing the birds to escape from their photonic prison. Winged creatures in motion, animating the memorial beams, then released.

Looking directly up from a few blocks east of ground zero: The Tribute in Light lancing the sky. The bright spot along each beam is a thin cloud layer.

Closer to the lights, the birds are visible in each beam.

Twin beams. They’re parallel, but seem to converge high in the sky.

From the rooftop gardens on a building near One World Trade.

Counting birds in the beams. We’re 34 stories above the street.

A 1/6 second exposure: the flight path of each bird is revealed.

 

Red (white and blue) carpet for migrant birds

They’re forest beacons, glowing come-hithers to migrant birds. These gene catapults, each carrying a plant’s hope for another generation, are ripening this week in Sewanee and across the eastern US. Not coincidentally, thrushes and other south-bound birds are also on the move (see BirdCast for the feathered forecast near you).

Some fruits from the woods near Sewanee: