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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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The bolt of natural selection

Oberon:

“Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound”


Hepatica unfurls its advertisements in both white and purple. This is true of North American species and those in Asia. Why the variation? Natural selection or genetic drift eliminates variation in a population unless some force keeps these purgative pressures at bay. In the case of Hepatica, the costs and benefits of white and purple flowers have not been measured in the wild (readers, correct me if I’m wrong here, please!).  Midwestern populations are more purple than their eastern cousins.

Could pollinators or the light environment be creating different selection pressures? Many populations contain a mix of colors (white is the most common here in Sewanee, but purples are scattered among them in significant numbers), so selection does not seem to favor just one color in each location.

In spring beauty flowers (Claytonia), flowers come in red, white, and intermediate. Natural selection acts on flower color in this species complex ways. Redder flowers are more attractive to pollinators, but whiter flowers have more flavonols, chemicals that act as herbivore deterrents. So, white flowers receive fewer pollinators but red flowers get more damage from slugs. Damage from herbivory changes from year to year and from place to place. So two opposing forces — pollination and herbivory — vary in space and time, resulting in a mix of flower colors. Perhaps a similar turbulent, Puckish convergence of forces also acts on Hepatica?