When Children Hear the Sound of a Rifle, They Miss the Song of the Bird

Did you know that our ability to notice sounds is diminishing?

Many of us don’t notice the same sounds people 100 years ago would have heard because of the barrage of noise into our daily lives, and because of the loss of the sounds of silence.

But you can unplug your children from modern noises like constant music playing, talking toys and video games and let them learn to listen. Going out into nature provides the perfect setting.

Like a musician needs to develop an ear for the subtle differences in musical notes. Your children need to develop an ear for the subtle sounds of beauty in nature, or they won’t learn to notice them.

Can you imagine missing the quiet rustle of leaves on a fall day from some far away tree?

Or the song of a bird singing in the distance?

Or the far away bubbling of a creek on a warm afternoon in summer?

With everyone so plugged in today from televisions constantly playing in our homes to music bombarding us everywhere we go, this is exactly what’s happening.

And it’s happening to your children too.

The other day my son and I were in a state park near our home. We were climbing to the top of the mountain.

As we got about two thirds of the way up the mountain, we saw a couple of families heading down together. As they came closer, the noise of the children grew louder and louder.

It wasn’t the enjoyable sounds of children playing though; it was the annoying sound of battery-operated toys.

Three little boys about four or five were climbing down the mountain with orange automatic rifles in their hands. The guns were so big that they were struggling to carry them and pull the trigger at the same time.

How incongruous with nature can one be?!

I watched as several times the children whined for their parents’ help.

The parents then had to interrupt their conversation to help their little ones pull the trigger on their oversized guns. The guns were obnoxiously noisy, and it was not a peaceful walk in nature for these parents.

The kind of walk that only nature can provide.

The parents looked stressed out, and the children were frustrated. Nor were they playing together. They were each occupied with their own gun.

No one was laughing. No one seemed to be enjoying themselves.

As they climbed down the mountain, they missed the sound of the birds, they missed the whisper of the leaves blowing, and they missed the crunching of the rocks underneath their feet.

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own.)”

— Richard Louv

The children didn’t even notice that they were so high up the mountain that they could see forever if they had only looked up. Their sole preoccupation was with their automatic rifles which kept their heads in a downward position.

I tried to smile and connect with the children as we passed, but the tension amongst the parents and the children’s fixation on the guns made it impossible to connect with anyone.

A few corners later, we ran into another group coming down the hill. In this second group were three dads and three boys. These boys were a few years older, maybe eight and nine.

Hand’s free and laughing, the boys were chasing each other. I heard them begin to establish new rules for the game they were playing. They were having a blast, and the dads seemed to be enjoying themselves too.

While the boys weren’t absorbing the sounds of nature the whole time, they were playing together, connecting, practicing their social and verbal skills, getting exercise, and breathing fresh air.

And during the moments of silence, they couldn’t help but listen to the sounds of nature.

They were bonding in nature.

Nature is essential for children’s well-being. It makes them happy. It makes them healthy. It connects them to one another while, at the same time, they connect to something greater than themselves.

“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses. ”
— Richard Louv

Being in nature triggers fond memories of childhood when your children are grown, too, in a way that a bright orange automatic rifle never will.

I love sitting quietly in my backyard on a warm summer day listening to the songs of the various neighborhood birds. My favorite is the trill of the Red-winged Blackbird.

I only used to hear them when I went to the grocery store. They’d always cluster in the parking lot trees while trilling away. But after so many years, they finally made it up the hill and into my backyard.

Now I have my own Red-winged Blackbirds to sing for me.

No matter where I am, years from now, whenever I hear them sing, they’ll always take me right back to this time in my life; the period when I raised my children.

There’s something about the trill of the Red-winged Blackbird that hits me somewhere deep.


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