Often when I take a long hike, I listen to a book on CD. I stuff my portable CD player in one my pants pockets and six or seven discs in my other pocket. Earphones in place, I make my way down the path enjoying the thoughts and plots of others. But some days, I purposely don’t take a book so that I can think, meditate, reflect and enjoy the sounds of the woods. On these more silent hikes, I become sensitive to what is happening all around me – the squirrel scampering up the tree, the sound of the waves hitting the shore of the lake, and the dogs barking in the distance.
It was during some of these think walks that I realized the percussion section of the forest. The trees themselves form a pretty complex percussion ensemble performing for all who will listen. During the spring and summer the leaves in the trees bring music to the wind. The warm spring breezes blow the tree tops and conduct the maple version of Ode to Joy. The wind that brings the dark clouds of rain echoes Handel’s Water Music through the leaves of oaks and firs.
The percussion section loses its leaves in the fall and winter but the beat goes on. As the hiker moves through the path, the leaves echo the rhythm of the boots. The leaves stay in perfect cadence with the tempo of the walker. In fact the hiker becomes the conductor guiding the percussion section. He/she can select a waltz, or a march, a love song, or a hip-hop dance tune. For the backpacker who likes to sing, the percussion section produces some mighty fine accompaniment.
On a rare occasion, the trees will even sing themselves. The first time I heard it, I could not comprehend what I was hearing. I stopped and listened to see if I might be able to recognize the tune or the source of the song. I soon realized that the sound was coming from two tree limbs rubbing against each other as the wind brought the musicians together. Having observed several concerts over the last year, the trees sing different pitches at different tempos with different rhythms – quite pretty actually.
And then enters the professional percussionist – high in the trees comes a perfect nine stroke roll with a rim shot for emphasis. The woodpecker is performing his drum solo with complete perfection. I had the privilege of listening to a drum-off just a few weeks ago. Two rival superstars were practicing a couple hundred yards away from one another. The first prodigy would begin with a powerful solo that echoed in the quiet wood; then the second drummer would copy the first with a flurry of his own. So the contest lasted for quite some time – I think they must have been rock drummers because they sounded like head-bangers (oh groan….sorry).
The next time you are taking a hike in the woods, I hope you will enjoy the percussion section of the forest.