The “peace and quiet” of natural landscapes is far more than just an absence of noise.

When the world gets to be too much, when we get too tired of hearing constant messages and always being tuned in, there’s nothing like heading out to a natural spot for some peace and quiet, right?

Maybe not. Nature, it turns out, is a noisy place. We rarely achieve true silence when we’re outside. What we often think of as attaining quiet is actually hearing natural sounds that have the power to soothe us, such as a stream babbling over rocks in a creek, the chirps of birds or the rustle of wind in the trees. For Dr. Bernie Krause, a bioacoustician who records natural soundscapes, these types of sounds provide us with another benefit: they are life-affirming.

In the short video below, titled Yosemite Nature Notes: Soundscapes, Dr. Krause describes the three basic sources of a soundscape: the geophony, the nonbiological sounds that occur in any given habitat, such as those that come from a waterfall, the wind or waves at a shore; the biophony, which is noise produced by biological entities, such as birdsong or the calls of ground squirrels; and the anthrophony, the sounds that humans make and generate—controlled or chaotic—which is often referred to as just “noise.”

The chirp of a ground squirrel on the alert is part of Yosemite National Park’s biophony. ©From the video “Yosemite Nature Notes: Soundscapes,” Yosemite National Park

Within the National Park Service’s new vision, soundscapes are deemed as having a value worth protecting. However, exactly what noises we should consider appropriate for the parks is the challenge. Is the thwop-thwop of a helicopter or the back-up beeping of a waste disposal truck acceptable?

Most of us, because we live in cities, have to tune out much of the noise in our everyday lives just to survive. Then, when we do manage to get out into more natural landscapes, we’re accustomed to hearing only what’s within a 10-foot radius. As Yosemite National Park Ranger Karyn O’Hearn says in the video, “you completely have to relearn how to start hearing beyond.”

That ability to hear beyond will award you with more than just pleasant sounds. In the words of Dr. Krause, “where environmental sciences have typically tried to understand the world from what we see, a much fuller understanding can be got from what we hear. Biophonies and geophonies are the signature voices of the natural world. As we hear them, we are endowed with a sense of place, the true story of the world we live in.”

Here’s to finding—and hearing—your true places and natural habitats,