If you read Jim Corbett’s books, you will know that he started his tracking apprenticeship at a very early age. Corbett describes that when he was around eleven years old, he decided it was imperative if he wanted to be a tracker to identity every sound in the forest. Corbett grew up in the jungles of India. Identifying sounds not only was a way of ‘knowing’ the forest, but also vital to his safety. Birds especially can alert one to danger in a landscape with tigers and leopards.
I think what made me decide to begin this audio task in the landscape of my home in the Absarokas was the night I was sleeping in the backcountry and I heard a loud scream in the middle of the night. My companion was sound asleep. My dog was by my side. The screech was not a person, but it was blood curdling. That was the beginning. I began recording this last winter.
Winter nights bring many new sounds. I put out a microphone and recorder while I slept. Some sounds were easy to identify like these wolves singing https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/212590774&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true“>
Other sounds much harder and I needed help like this Screech Owl.
One night I got very lucky and got this cougar.
Spring arrived and so did many local birds–Robins, Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend’s Solitaires, hawks, and one of our resident owls–the Boreal Owl. For several years I’d tried to identify their primary sound when they are beginning to nest, a series of low toots. They will call for several weeks, or months, starting at dusk, and they are difficult to locate. I’d never seen one, but now easily can identity their call.
The last several nights I’d heard strange noises outside my window that sounded like very loud mice, or strange squirrel sounds. It’s hot, and I sleep with the windows open. The squirrels are all asleep at midnight, and mice are very quiet. Also, these noises appeared to shift from one location to another much farther away, then back near my window. I looked outside but could see nothing because it was dark. Then this morning, around 4:30 a.m., just before first light, I heard the sounds again, right above my window. I got out of bed, walked to the picture window and looked on the roof of the porch overhang. There sat two owls, medium sized, no tufts. They were making these strange ‘Skiew‘ noises. Boreals! What were they doing around my house these last nights? What was this communication all about?
Knowing your Place is not just about knowing terrain, or identifying tracks, trees or flowers, or even understanding ‘bird language’ as Jon Young teaches. It is a constant exercise in using all our senses and an immersion in our natural state of Wonder.