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The Wells Reserve soundwalk

The Sounds of Place at Wells Reserve

The Wells Reserve Soundwalk, July 2014

From July 16-19, 2014, I was fortunate to take part in an interdisciplinary workshop held in Maine, US, directed by Bryan Pijanowski of Purdue University, lead investigator of the Global Sustainable Soundscapes Network (Co-PI is Catherine Guastavino – McGill University, Canada). This research project is funded by the US National Science Foundation.

The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve is part of a larger network of such research centres. It is open to the public, with many educational walking trails. Within the reserve are grasslands, woodlands, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes and a long undeveloped sandy beach.

The soundwalk took place on the morning of July 17. We met initially at a gazebo near the reserve educational centre. Here, I introduced my soundwalk research and suggested some tips for listening while on the walk. We handed out small notebooks that Prof. Pijanowski had prepared, which included a list of sites where soundscape recordings had been made, keyed to the Wells Reserve map (sites such as a vernal pond, coastal tree, Laudholm beach, and others). Short observations made by the recording crew were also included (“Coastal tree: most diverse site with birds and insects”). Suggestions for soundscape notes were provided for listeners (“Sense of place: sounds that define this place / remind or connect to you, family, community / symbolic sounds”). After the introduction, people split up into smaller groups of one to four people, and began their walks through the site. Later in the day, some people met with me at a session, while others contributed their observations in individual conversations.

My soundwalk took me through a grassland area, rich in insect sounds in the middle of the day, through a cool woodland with distant surf towards the north. As the surf became louder, I passed a pond that attracted shorebirds, and arrived at a construction site, with the sounds of saws and moving of construction materials. Large many-bedroomed houses were being built right up to the boundary of the Wells reserve, and along Laudholm beach beyond drifted the sounds of families playing in the surf.

At this point, I reflected on the educational signs that I had seen along the way, that pointed out important notes about vegetation and wildlife habitat. I thought that perhaps information could also be included on the effects of tourist and recreational development on the estuarine area.

In the session later that day, the importance of recognizing disciplinary listening was mentioned. A bird biologist said that, since we had discussed this in the introductory session, she was more alert to disciplinary tendencies, that normally she would want to focus on types of birds and their interactions. Being aware of this tendency allowed her to consciously open up to other kinds of listening. Both the soundwalk notebook and the opportunity for followup discussion provided clearings where these other kinds of listening could be explored in productive conversation.