Listening to the Undergrowth

Where there is undergrowth, there is life. It may not always reveal itself to the eye, but it will be available to the ears if a person is quiet. This isn’t just about beautiful remote places, but about the undergrowth on the edges of urban spaces, lanes, roadsides, the hedges on fields that are otherwise lifeless monocultures…

We humans have the bad habit of taking our noise with us – be that in earphones, over-involved conversations, or the noise that goes on in our heads. A person doesn’t have to move in careful silence to hear what’s around them – in fact conversation is still possible. What’s needed is more presence. If we fold into the little world of the verbal exchange we’re having, everything around us can go unheeded. If we’re first and foremost present in the landscape, and the conversation is secondary, then the landscape opens to us in new ways. Obviously if you can’t hear at all, this line of thought will be useless to you, but any sound sensitivity can made use of.

People who walk with me have to adapt to this! I will interrupt absolutely anything to point out wildlife, because the wildlife won’t wait for polite opportunities. I’ll break conversation threads for clouds and buzzards, plants and effects of the light. I delight in walking with people who do the same and will leap out of a conversation to alert me to a plant or some other point of interest. (Nods to Robin, if he’s reading this.)

The loudest sound in the British undergrowth is often the blackbird, foraging amongst the leaves. Attention to the sound will lead you to the bird, who is likely close by. Other ground foragers – thrushes, robins, wrens, can also become visible by this means. It is possible to see small rodents if you track them by sound. They tend to be quieter than birds, and sometimes all you can do is track the disturbance of the undergrowth where the rodent passes through.

Mammals tend to know we are around and will often move away from noisy humans before we get any chance to see them. However, if you can move through a space without disturbing it, you may get audio cues about mammal activity. It’s not as easy to see wild mammals as you might assume, but sometimes the sound will give them away. Many deal with humans by being still – in their silence and immobility, we don’t register them, often. But, a moving animal makes sound, and you can hear the movement over the terrain in that sound sometimes, and it is well worth paying attention to.

Of course listening also opens up a world of bird song, wind sound, sometimes water sound and animal cries, but that’s another story.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Listening to the Undergrowth

  • robinpoet8

    Hello! now is the time to get very excited about pointing things out, my ears are very busy now pointing out the bird song in the morning! I like the approach of pointing things out in the undergrowth and not feeling I have to then interfere in what is, unless it’s edible and that in eating this is a continuation of my body with the undergrowth.

  • Aurora J Stone

    Well timed for spring when there is likely to be more song and more mammalian rustlings in the undergrowth. Thank you for raising this to a higher level of awareness. We tend as creatures to move both loudly and clumsily through the world, it takes practice to walk quietly in stillness, but the times it happens are magical. Though sparrows always know and silence just before you arrive and at a specified distance, the same as where you came upon them in a shrub they chatter again. Wonderful and charming.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Get to do that daily out here in my desert, and with more open ground see more even when the animals go still and silent.

  • Tracy Kruse

    Am wondering if you, too, catch glimpses of the Fae on these walks? I am believing that you are so well attuned that it is more than likely!

  • Esther

    I’d like a link to a good bird song identifier as it drives me crazy not being able to identify lots of the song around me, although the occasional lucky glimpse of a species singing means I’m getting better at it!

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