Today we’re visiting the Zabalo River in Ecuador. It’s a completely undisturbed ecosystem, where all the creatures we hear are all native to the land, and have coexisted and continued to evolve together for thousands of years. No animal is stepping on the communications of another animal. No two birds sound alike.
Gordon Hempton: BirdNote Presents
Ashley Ahearn: This is Sound Escapes, a special production from BirdNote. I’m Ashley Ahearn - and you are gonna want to put on some headphones for this one.
Gordon Hempton recorded this journey down the Zabalo River, in Ecuador, using something called a “binaural microphone.”
It’s a special microphone, shaped just like a human head - it’s designed to replicate exactly what your ears would hear if you were on the Zabalo River with Gordon.
The microphone’s name, by the way, is Fritz.
So, we’re in a wooden canoe, and we’re traveling down this tropical river with the indigenous Cofan -- the People-of-the-Forest.
As night falls and our eyes start to fail us, our ears kick into high gear. And on the Zabalo, there is a lot to listen for.
Gordon Hempton: This is a completely undisturbed ecosystem. The creatures that we hear are all native to this land and have coexisted and continued to evolve. It’s an opportunity for us to wonder about life.
Ashley Ahearn: And as you’re wondering about life, you might also be wondering about what you’re hearing. If you go to bird note dot org slash sound escapes, you’ll find a list of the birds in this recording, with time stamps so you can ID them as you’re listening.
Ok, I’m going to get out of the way now and leave you on the Zabalo River as night falls…
[Soundscape of the Zabalo River]
Ashley Ahearn: So much life in the darkness of the Amazonian jungle.
And now that our sonic adventure comes to a close, we hope these recordings have helped you become a better listener... Maybe you’re a bit more attuned to the sounds of the natural world around you. That was Gordon Hempton’s dream in creating this whole production.
Gordon is losing his hearing, so he’s on a mission to make sure the rest of us don’t take our ears for granted.
Because he says, we are all affected by our sonic environments.
Gordon Hempton: I think that our thoughts and our actions echo the place we’re in. If, if we’re in a noisy place like New York, we’re going to be noisy ourselves. Some people might enjoy that, but we’re going to be that. We echo the place. We are what we hear. And so when we go to a place that is nature as its most natural, I think we find ourselves being who we are.
Ashley Ahearn: So get out there, find somewhere wild near you - whether it’s a pocket park in your city or a big stretch of forest or farmland, and devote yourself to listening to that place. As Gordon said in our first episode, “This podcast is just an invitation to the live concert.”
Thank you so very much to Gordon Hempton for gathering these amazing recordings over the course of his career and sharing them with all of us.
Sound Escapes is a special production from BirdNote. It was edited by BirdNote’s managing producer, Jason Saul, and written by me, Ashley Ahearn, and Mark Bramhill. Our sound designers are John Kessler and Laura Giannone. Ellen Blackstone helped with editing and visuals. Social media and marketing was Liz Felix and Shelly Ellison, and our digital producer is Katie Meyer.
And hey, If you loved this podcast, please, tell somebody about it. BirdNote is a small, independent public radio show, and word-of-mouth is the best way to help us spread the word about birds, and nature, and beautiful short podcasts like this one.
You can also learn more about Gordon Hempton and his incredible work - and how you can support the Quiet Parks movement - at Quiet Parks Dot Org. Quiet is good for people, and it’s good for birds, too.
Sound Escapes was made possible with support from BirdNote’s listeners, Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, and the Horizons Foundation.
I’m Ashley Ahearn. Thanks so much for listening.
[Soundscape fades out]