I have spent the last two nights at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge. It is in eastern Arizona and is a migratory stop to 7,000 plus, Sandhill Cranes. The whole valley is a stop for more than 23,000 of these beautiful birds. Each morning around dawn they leave in mass to feed in the nearby ranch fields. It is an amazing site to witness their departure and return to the refuge.
The refuge is also home to many ducks, shore birds, owls, and yellow-headed blackbirds. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes and more make this their home as well. For those of us in our RV’s and tents, it is a free camping spot. I think the refuge provides the camping as most get up to see the pre-dawn take off.
Yes it was amazing to see these graceful birds. Yes I loved the ducks and all the other birds. What was most amazing were the amount of sounds that surrounded me when I stopped and listened.
- The cranes were never silent, even in the middle of the night.
- The ducks quacked, squeaked and more.
- The first evening when the yellow-headed blackbirds returned to the refuge they flew directly over my head. It was so amazing to listen to the sound of hundreds of wings. They were so close I could almost feel the breeze as they flew above.
- Later as I was making my back to the RV, the reeds sounded like the wind was blowing, although it was still. It took me a few moments to realized that the blackbirds were making the noise in the marsh reeds.
- The owls hooted in the trees surrounding the marsh.
- Night two I was able to witness a murmuration up close as the blackbirds swooped in and out of the marshes. They created their own arial dance. I could hear them as the swooped and dove, settling for a few moments on the reeds and then taking to the air again.
Listening is defined as “giving attention with the ear”. It is an art form. There are classes to teach active listening. People listen to each other. A therapist listens to their clients. Fine music can sweep one away.
How often do we stop just to listen? How does the wind sound today? How does the quiet sound, right now? When it is too quiet do we actively do something to disturb it? What does silence sound like? This refuge was so alive I cannot tell you what silence sounded like.
Listening to nature is a form of meditation. It can quiet the mind, still the ever present rambling thoughts. I have found that it can increase my awareness of the present moment. The more I am quiet in the wilderness, the more I become aware of the subtlest sounds. As I stood in the refuge I realized that the ultimate experience at this place, was sound. There was so much of it all around. If I had not taken the time to quiet myself, I might have missed the sounds around me.
I have noticed, since leaving San Diego in January, that quiet is becoming more important to me. It is not quiet that I seek as much as it is the increasing awareness within myself to acknowledge the sounds that I don’t often pay attention to, like the blackbirds in the reeds. It was an amazing revelation to realize that the reeds were alive with birds. It drew me back the next night and so I was able to witness the murmuration.
Now I am listening to my stomach and it is telling me it is time for dinner.