Silent Spring

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Folks are always asking me what wild soundscapes reveal. Having recorded them over the past half century, I've learned, first and foremost, that they provide vast narratives of time and place.

I'm especially drawn to the abundant collective dawn choruses of birdsong - welcoming signs of spring - that fill the acoustic space of Sonoma Valley where my wife and I live. By mid-April, the height of the season, those lovely biophonies are usually everywhere. At one particular site here, the stream typically runs well into June or July - a gentle, reassuring burbling voice produced by the rains of winter. But recently, I've noticed a disturbing trend toward eerie silence that has descended on our area. Here is an example from 2004. The sound is still healthy and robust.

(Many Bird Sounds)

In 2014, the third year of the drought, the change was profound. The stream was dry, subduing the riparian part of the habitat, and birdsong was extremely light.

(Lighter Bird Sounds)


And, in 2015, the fourth drought year, there was virtually nothing, the first silent spring I'd ever experienced.

(Ambient Outdoor Sounds)

Many people have told me that they've observed similar changes... like the natural world is desperately trying to tell us something - begging for us to listen to its divine message. To me it sounds like a shout-out balanced somewhere between creation and destruction - and we embrace that kind of silence at our own peril.

With a Perspective, I'm Bernie Krause.

Bernie Krause is a naturalist, composer and soundscape ecologist. He lives in Sonoma County.