A Focus On Nature

Advent Calendar

The Wordless Voices, Nature’s Gift To Me – Shen Yan Liow

Welcome to our 2015 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! For each day in the lead-up to Christmas, we have a post from an A Focus On Nature member on this year’s Advent theme: “The Gift of Giving”. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dawn chorus – the awakening voices of nature. As winter warms up, the very hour before sunrise when everyone is still asleep, we sneaked out of bed and raced into the garden for the very first duet to break the cool winter’s air. Robins and blackbirds lead the stage with their clear whistles. Ratchety rhythm following one another, slowly joined by the higher pitched wrens and warblers, accomplishing a wonderful piece of orchestration performed only to the early risers. The chorus harmonises in my ears and heart. It was simply magic, standing in the garden listening to the singing males calling to the females so loud but remaining unseen until the gentle ray of Sun shines through for the first spring morning.

I have been practising music for my entire life and I’ve always been very attuned to noise. I hear everything, but I don’t really listen much. When I do take a moment to listen, they are engaging experiences and at times transcendental – the wordless gift from our natural world to me.

The mythical whale song – the life changing voice that moved me to become a naturalist. One long and warm summer’s afternoon, I was crafting the sound design for my graduation’s masterpiece. I was searching for unique acoustics and then I heard… such gentle voices from the giant, the humpback whale. It was like opening a box of chocolate that sings, so beautifully yet so complex. It’s composition resonates with me deeply. I was immediately touched. There were rhythms I can make sense of, and tones that I am familiar with. Their long echoes reverberated me to search for more. The search was unpredictable but full of surprises. There were many bright days and dark nights I pressed my ears against the ocean waves waiting patiently for a whale song. Most days it was hymns of the roaring sea, but when the humpback sings it sends shivers down my spine. It was nature’s sweetest tunes.

The sea shanties – the march that continues my voyage for conservation. Like music, voices of nature has the capacity to amplify important messages that transform thinking and actions. The more I learn, the more I love and care. Through whale songs, I learned about whaling history driving away not only whale species, but the livings that depended on them. Through their calls, I also learned that human can play a part in changing their faith. On ferry crossings with ORCA I surveyed marine mammals in the Atlantic waters. I documented their population, behaviour and habitat conditions to improve scientific understanding. I travelled across to the Pacific and lived with communities in a fishing village where they still silently hunt whales today.

Like music, elements of nature is universal and pan-cultural. It has the same biological heritage as human vocalisation, with the ability to stir emotions or manifest into a lump in the throat, or sparkle in the eyes. By hearing and being exposed to nature’s voices, I become sensitive to the regularity and troubled drumming for protection. It is an experience that I can no longer turn away from.

I am thankful to have been gifted with the chances to hear these extraordinary sounds of nature. I close my eyes, again I listen… quietly…  here it comes from nature to me, a song she sings that warms my heart this Christmas eve.

Shen Yan Liow currently works for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Her role as a science communicator involved bridging fisheries science and policy, to transform the world’s seafood markets and promote sustainable fishing practices. Follow her at @shenyanliow