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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Environment

Jun 05, 2017

The Sound of Silence: Film ‘Being Hear’ Turns Up the Volume of Nature

When it comes to preserving nature, the United States is in a scary place right now.

WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

However, the continuous work of world-renowned sound recordist and acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton has inspired two filmmakers to head into Olympic National Park, appreciate silence and ask themselves—and everyone who watches the ‘Being Hear’ film—what purpose does nature serve?

This is the time to be alive. This is when we will make the big decision.
Will we, or will we not fall back in love with planet earth.

Emmy-award winner Gordon Hempton has spent the last three decades traveling around the world, searching and advocating for silence—not the absence of sound, but the absence of human caused noise. His life’s work has appeared in films, soundtracks and video games, but has transcended far beyond that, touching and inspiring many to recognize his ‘silence activism’ through a film called ‘Being Hear’.

Without hesitation, two friends and filmmakers, Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen knew: “We’ve got to make a film about this guy.”

Being Hear: Teaser from Palmer Morse on Vimeo.

Palmer and Matthew met during their time studying film, Palmer being interested in cinematography and directing, while Matt being interested in sound. After having heard about Gordon Hempton’s work, Matt was able to spend some time learning from and being mentored by Gordon.

I remember Matt coming back after spending that time with Gordon and learning about nature’s sounds. These two loves: nature and sound.” Palmer told The Outdoor Journal in an interview. “Fast forward 4 years later and we made the film. We took a trip out together, I got to meet Gordon and spend time with him and in turn, learned a lot from him and that experience.”

Photo of Gordon Hempton, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

It turned out to be an experience that would also touch and resonate with a large audience as Being Hear became Official Selections at Banff Mountain Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival, and many more.

It has also given its viewers something unexpected along the way—not to mention relief from a sentiment and an overused ‘c-word’ that we at The Outdoor Journal have banished from our vocabulary when speaking about nature.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is really about action, ‘conquering’ the highest mountains and doing it faster than anyone else,” says Matt. “People almost took an audible breath when Being Here started to play. It’s not about this ‘conquer nature’ attitude, it’s really about appreciating our place in nature and how interconnected with it we really are. Being in nature and seeking silence and just being able to sit there by yourself really allows you to ask yourself questions and think in a way that you’re not able to when you go to work and grocery shopping. We keep bringing up this word meditative, but I think it’s really about being able to engage in metacognition and think about the world and what your place is.”

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While Palmer was going into this concept fresh and without preconceived notions or expectations, Matt was already “biased and loved it.”  That’s why he knew that they wouldn’t need the type of meticulous planning that normally goes into making documentaries—by simply arriving at Gordon’s front door, he was sure they would come away with something powerful.

“He’s very well spoken. We’ve had a lot of people asking, ‘who wrote the piece that he narrated in the film?’, but that’s just how his brain works. That’s how he speaks in everyday life—these beautifully put together thoughts. So I knew that if we went out there and just put a camera in front of him, we would come out with something really, really interesting. And we were lucky that happened.”

The raw clip of Gordon simply sitting in the forest and speaking is nearly 2 hours long. Not exactly easy to condense down into a 10-minute video, both digestible for our fast-paced world and at the same time effective, but they did just that. This while introducing a concept that is rarely on people’s radar—even those actively aware of how we affect our planet.

Photo of Gordon Hempton, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

Speaking on the rarity of our appreciation of sound, Palmer says, “This is just my personal opinion, but when we talk about specifically environmental issues, a lot of the environmental crises that we have, climate change, etc., most of the rhetoric is rooted in what we see and what we deem as ugly, and a lot of the health risks associated with such. Listening, sound and audio, are not discussed. One aspect I would take away from the film is that sound is important. Listening is a really good indicator to figure out if an ecosystem is unhealthy, if an environment is not as it should be. Obviously if you’re going for a hike in Hawaii, it’s beautiful, but then you hear a big highway in the background. You can imagine how that is affecting any species in that area. So although what we see on the surface might seem beautiful and okay, there are a lot more layers and complexity to it.”

Although we’re always behind those sweating to keep national parks beautiful, the relevance of sound is something we don’t think about enough.

Both Matt and Palmer were pleased to notice that after watching the film, people appeared to really understand and appreciate the importance of sound, “and not only listening as a physical thing, but as a metaphorical thing as well. Gordon says, which is one of my favourite lines in the film: ‘be like the wave, accommodate all things’. And if you think about that phrase, in a few different ways, it really changes how you move about the world.”

The real issue is that the option of actually being able to go outside and find places to do so, to just listen, is something we have less and less of.

Olympic National Park. Photo courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

“The ability to go into nature and listen to those sounds as they appear is disappearing because the level of noise pollution is slowly increasing, due to population density and transportation, etc.,” says Palmer.

Needless to say, Matt agrees:

“We, in the United States, currently have a president who does not care about the environment. I am pretty biased, but every action that our government has taken in the past few months has been anti-preserving of nature. And that is very scary for a lot of us, regardless if you voted for him or not. Public lands are being auctioned off, the EPA is being cut. We are in a very scary place when it comes to preserving nature right now.”

Not to mention the most recent events of President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

“My ultimate question with this film is what are our national parks for? And it’s not a question we can easily answer. I’m a firm believer that the National Parks in the United States are one of the greatest asset we have a country. There is so much natural beauty, and what do these serve? Being Hear is really just trying to get people to ask themselves that question: what are our natural spaces for?”

These extremely important, but difficult questions have continued to trouble, inspire the filmmakers in their future projects. We at The Outdoor Journal have promised to keep our discretion about their next endeavour, but will have updates with their latest plans as soon as possible.

Head to the Being Hear website for more information about the film and how you can see the full feature. For more on Gordon Hempton, visit his website, The Sound Tracker.

Feature image: Olympic National Park, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

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