Mount Sutro Forest: Sounds of the Cloud Forest

Bay Area Sound Ecology, an organization promoting awareness of the soundscape, conducts “soundwalks.” These are expeditions that focus on listening rather than just looking. Last evening, Jeremiah Moore and Andrea Williams led such a soundwalk in the Mount Sutro Cloud Forest for World Listening Day.

We started at the bottom of Medical Center Way, amid sound of traffic on Parnassus and the trucks making deliveries to UCSF and the squeak of the windsock’s bearings. Then we took the steps up, exited at Farnsworth, and entered the forest by Edgewood, along the Woodland Canyon trail.

A FOREST IN THE FOG

Earlier, the weather had been sunny. By 6 p.m., the fog rolled in. Birds tend to go quiet in the fog, but there were some chirps and twitters overlaid by a steady background of caws of crows and ravens.

We climbed into the fog by the North Ridge Trail toward the Native Plant garden, and the relative dryness and dust of the trails below gave way to mud. The birds were quieter.  The wind soughed in the tops of the eucalyptus, but we didn’t feel it; at ground level the trees and bushes form an effective wind break. The salient sound was the patter of the forest’s internal rain on the understory plants. This was the cloud forest experience.

In the Native Garden, we stopped for a while, and Andrea conducted a listening exercise. It was very quiet. The creak of eucalyptus. The chirrups of a few birds, now the shrubs in the Garden are large enough to provide some cover. A plane droning invisibly overhead. (The mountain is below a flight path.)

THE FOREST SOUNDS DIFFERENT

Jeremiah, who’d walked the trails before in preparation for this event, spoke of the very different soundscape then. It had been a sunny afternoon, and in the Native Garden, the sounds of the city were a roar. On this trip, the city’s presence was concealed in clouds and silence, its sounds damped by the fog.

Unusually, we found a piece of junk in the Garden: an abandoned boombox, next to a circle of some kind of chalk powder. Not inappropriate.

[ETA 29 August 2011: Jeremiah Moore’s report is here. It has an impressively detailed and sensitive description of the same soundwalk.]

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