Wild Neoteny

Annual Wildflower Festival Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Annual Wildflower Festival
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
“Hey, stop the truck!” my wife called from the passenger seat, her nose pressed against the window. I already knew what this was about; she was out the door before the dust had cleared the hood, kneeling in the grass. While she hovered over something newly found with purple petals, I stared out across the high, open meadow of blooming wildflowers, the urge to run surging into my feet. I turned at her exclamation several seconds later, half a football field of colored space between us now. Arms spread wide; grins from ear to ear. In a field of wildflowers, we were kids again.

Scientists call it neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult of a species—basically, the harboring of a playful nature into adulthood. The research into the benefits of play, especially outdoor play, is becoming more replete by the day. In humans, play puts the right hemisphere of the brain into gear, that portion responsible for artistic and creative notions, imagination and insight, and holistic thought. The cerebellum and frontal lobes light up as well, increasing attunement to coordination, executive functioning, and contextual memory development. Neoteny, scientists say, is the key to a species’ adaptability and, therefore, its survival.

Alpine Pond Upper Flowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Alpine Pond Upper Flowers
Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Wild neoteny could be the term used to describe the human affinity to explore one’s natural surroundings, to wander off into the hills in search of something new and interesting, to learn the nuance of a place and to gain some intimacy with it—to call it home. We do that, I think, when we go on hikes into the wild hinterlands, catapult ourselves down the turbulent waters of our rivers, or climb the rock faces we stumble upon. It’s an adrenaline rush to be sure, a high on life as they say; but it’s also an act of survival—and of remaining human.

Robin Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University, says “the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation….” “Sensory experiences,” he says, “link [our] exterior world with [our] interior, hidden, affective world.” The outdoor environment is a medium of human connection where, as Moore puts it, the “freedom to explore and play…through the senses…is essential for healthy development….” Dr. Stuart Brown, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, behooves us in his Ted Talk on the subject to explore our individual histories of play. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself at play, where are you? The open water, a deep forest, a mountain peak, or maybe a field of wildflowers?

In his national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls nature a “reset button.” It is the place where we are reminded of ourselves and our purpose. Australian musician Xavier Rudd sings, “Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge/Remember your place.” It’s often proffered that in a time of industrial expectation and hyper-communication, we need the wild spaces more than ever. There’s some truth to that; but I think I’d go play there anyway, even if it wasn’t to escape the, quote-unquote, “workaday life.” I’m most human when I’m running through a field of blooming wildflowers.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Cedar Breaks, Plan Your Visit, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-listing.htm?eventID=68A2C9C9-155D-451F-679007F885E5FA1A

Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Neoteny, Reference Terms, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neoteny.htm

Consider Soundscapes

Scoundscape Recording Equipment Courtesy US NPS
Scoundscape Recording Equipment
Courtesy US NPS
Imagine yourself in your favorite place outside. What sounds do you expect to hear? The sound of water rushing over rocks? Crickets chirping? The wind softly blowing through the trees? These are some of the natural sounds you might expect to hear, but it might not always work out that way. Recreation areas are often filled with anthropogenic noises like vehicles, people talking, music playing, machinery, and more.

Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park Courtesy US NPS
Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park
Courtesy US NPS
Soundscapes, or the acoustic environment, are not often thought of as a natural resource, but are actually an important part of the environment. A common reason people go to nature is for peace and quiet. Quiet is considered a valuable resource. Humans have grown accustomed to a constant background of noise, but it is not always good. Escaping to nature can potentially provide relief from noise pollution, but natural soundscapes are becoming less and less common.

Noise pollution significantly impacts human health. Physical and mental impacts can include hearing disorders, sleep disruption, and even interruptions in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Sound is more important than you might realize.

Soundscapes may be important to humans, but they are arguably even more important for wildlife. Many animals depend on hearing for warning them of danger, communicating with other animals, and locating prey. Birds and other animals can hear noises from very far away, and noise interference can disrupt them easily. Behavioral responses may include leaving an area for a brief time or leaving an area for good.

Through evolution, some animals have lost sight, because it was not a necessary trait in some situations. Up to this point, there has been no animal discovered that has lost its hearing through evolution. This illustrates how vital the acoustic environment is to wildlife and ecosystem health.

Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Think of a Barn Owl. Hunting in the dark, they rely on the tiniest rustle to lead them to their prey. Their sense of hearing is fine-tuned and adapted specially for this purpose. One ear hole is slightly higher than the other, which allows them to perceive depth through hearing. Also, one ear hole can hear sounds below them on the ground, and the other can hear the sounds in the air. Just by listening, an owl can locate a mouse far below it on the ground. Noise pollution would make it nearly impossible for owls to hunt.

Owls are just one example of noise pollution negatively effecting wildlife. As soundscapes are disturbed, wildlife will be displaced or even die. Public land managers now have the challenge of managing soundscapes. This is a difficult, but soundscapes are important for humans recreating, wildlife, and whole ecosystems.

As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS ans US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

http://naturalheroes.org/videos/natures-orchestra/

Bernie Krause, Recording Artist:
https://www.wildsanctuary.com/

Bryan C. Pijanowski, Luis J. Villanueva-Rivera, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Almo Farina, Bernie L. Krause,
Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti, Soundscape Ecology: The Science
of Sound in the Landscape, BioScience, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages 203–216, https://www.wildsanctuary.com/BioScience2011-SoundscapeEcology.pdf or https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/61/3/203/238162

Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World, Revised Edition Paperback – May 24, 2016
by Bernie Krause (Author),‎ Roger Payne (Foreword) https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Soundscapes-Discovering-Natural-Revised/dp/0300218192

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes (The Future Series) Hardcover – August 25, 2015
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Wild-Animal-Natural-Soundscapes/dp/0300206313

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places Paperback – March 12, 2013
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Great-Animal-Orchestra-Finding-Origins/dp/031608686X/

Kevin Colver, Recording Artist:

Know Your Bird Sounds: Common Western Species (with audio CD) (The Lang Elliott Audio Library) Paperback – January 10, 2008
by Lang Elliott (Author),‎ Kevin Colver (Contributor) https://www.amazon.com/Know-Your-Bird-Sounds-Western/dp/0811734463/

Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies Audio CD – January 1, 1996
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yellowstone-Rockies-Kevin-Colver/dp/1929797079/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/all-albums/products/songbirds-of-yellowstone-and-the-high-rockies

Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Southwest-Canyon-Country-Colver/dp/1929797036/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-southwest-canyon-country

Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Rocky-Mountain-Foothills-Colver/dp/192979701X/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-rocky-mountain-foothills

Songbirds of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yosemite-Sierra-Nevadas-Colver/dp/B00004T1L2/, or
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-yosemite-and-the-sierra-nevadas

Frogs and Toads, Kevin J Colver, August 16, 2011 https://www.amazon.com/Frogs-Toads-Kevin-J-Colver/dp/B005I0C4ZQ/

https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/katmai-wilderness
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/saguaro-sunrise
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/voice-of-the-arctic-refuge
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/starvation-creek-utah

Jeff Rice, Recording Artist:
Dobner, Jennifer, LISTENING TO THE NATURAL WEST
The U’s Western Soundscape Archive captures the animal and ambient music of the wild., CONTINUUM
THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH, Summer 2014, https://continuum.utah.edu/web-exclusives/listening-to-the-natural-west/

Vanderbilt, Tom, You Need to Hear This, Recording engineer Jeff Rice is on a mission to preserve the sounds of nature. Why? Listening to them might actually make us healthier., OutsideOnline.com, 20 Oct 2011, https://www.outsideonline.com/1887466/you-need-hear

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/index.htm

A Symphony of Sounds, US National Park Service (US NPS), https://www.nps.gov/articles/denali-understanding-managing-soundscapes.htm