Updates and thoughts on people vs nature

Hello friends and visitors from another world!

This is a very spontaneous entry that I wanted to share with you, instead of keeping it to a personal journal, or more likely spinning in my mind. You can think of it as an update to what I have been up to and some thoughts on life, perhaps… Please excuse the randomness.

Before that, there is something I need to tell you: thank you! I’ve come to “on-line meet” many of you who listen and read my work and I deeply appreciate you, like we are friends in real life. If you are new here or have been away for a while here’s a summary of what happened: last summer, the community backed up a field recording project that would allow me to spend time in a wolf sanctuary and, of course, make tons of recordings. Back then, I just couldn’t afford it and so, in an impulse, I decided to do a crowd-funding campaign on Ko-Fi. What would be the worse that could happen? It did cross my mind that some people would find it self-victimising or even arrogant, since I feels that it is tabu to speak about real difficulties faced on a low-income.
But you know… since I was not robbing anyone and actually needed help I went for it… et violà!: In less than 12 hours, I got more than I asked (the excedent bought me food – so thank you!). Everyone showed a lot of enthusiasm and that was a huge gift!
While at the sanctuary I wrote daily to the supporters and I feel we made each other company. It was very hard work to put the album together in about 1 month, but I managed to do it and the response was really good. The outcome reached further than simply more sales (I think it paid for my food consistently for about 3 months + about 150€ to the Wolf Centre): the work reached a lot of people a bit from all over the world, made its way into many playlists, mixes, some radio stations, sound programmes and I suppose that it opened various other channels which led to a handful of podcast invitations and a bigger network in general. For my own artistic development, it was also interesting to let myself push boundaries and conceive the album in that risky way. It’s highly unlikely that I would give up field recording had this not happened, but it was a major motivation factor – and new, very needed microphones (actually second hand).
What I am trying to say is that, if you can, support individual and/or community causes. I think it’s fair to say that in most cases the State is not there to support the community of non-billionaires, so we need community. A couple of bucks might not be much for some, but can make a little difference in someone else’s day.

Ok, luckily this bridges with what I have been thinking about and it does so in two ways: community and wolves.

I’ll start with the wolves.

Since April I have been staying/ living in a tiny beautiful village in the interior of Portugal with lots and lots of no-man’s land around (well, it looks like that). In the past, there used to be wolves here and some locals still remember hearing the howling and just a few days ago someone said they still remembered very well when the last she-wolf was shot.

Iberian Wolf distribution in Portugal, in the 20th century

It is tragic and it can be read in such symbolic manner. It’s easy to fall on the fatal loop: humans destroy everything. And while that is in part true, I want to invite you to also think about context and how that (or the lack of) can give space to erroneous ways in which some nature conservation organisations many times use emotional appealing statistics depleted of context.

I am in no way defending the killing of animals but I am not pointing fingers either. During the last century in Portugal, poverty was very real. Many families and people I know didn’t make ends meet: a lot of hunger, poor access to education, high rates of child mortality, a fascist dictator, etc. For those far from the cities, who could get anything at all out of their farm animals, the killing of a wolf could provide consequent safety and a good amount of money for its skin.
I’m sickened by many organisations from the western countries that “have solutions” to tackle x and y problems, particularly in “developing countries” (global south), without showing their audience any glimpse of actual local context – or even more serious: indigenous peoples that for millennia took care of their environment and, all of a sudden, are evicted out of their territories, forbidden to hunt, to fish, gather construct and usually end up suffering tremendous physical violence as well, not rarely leading to ethnic cleansing. I’m also talking about documentaries we are all delighted to watch for their jaw-dropping footage, which mention nothing about this and give us, the viewers, the idea that it is the white man that now has the solution to fix environmental destruction in Africa (yes, I wrote “Africa” on purpose) and in countries in the East – and many times that is departing man from Nature. But… we are nature. And the way we have been taught to look at it, it’s making me slightly uncomfortable with or at least questioning my own thoughts.
When I was planning my visit here, I checked a few databases of animals reported in the area and its surroundings. I feel strange that I was getting satisfaction with potential encounters with or sightings of the biggest animals, the ones with the wildest colours or the cutest crests. While I suppose this is normal, to a degree, why am I looking for eagles when I never paid that much attention to the hundreds of sparrows just above the roof and outside the door? My only defense is the crush I got on a couple of spotless starlings I was stalking on the roof for many sunsets during the spring.

the only rooftop I actually like

And we can think “oh but an osprey has amazing features and capabilities”. And yes, but I wonder if that is not something we learned to admire based on what was imposed to be admirable on humans too. Ferocious, fast, implacable hunter, dangerous, etc. (I keep picturing the Terminator as I write this).

This are just my own views – sorry if I pushed it by using the pronoun ‘we’. But I hope this offers food for thought and below I share a very interesting reading on the subject.

Another factor that I’ve been truly enjoying is how community works and people care for each other. I’ve been offered fresh organic vegetables many times, dinner, and an openness to whatever I needed. Luckily most of the inhabitants are already vaccinated but for such affectionate people, imposing social distance took a bit of a toll. When I met the first few people that welcomed me here, we would step away 2 meters, put down the mask to smile with both mouth and eyes, so eventually we’d get to know each other a little better. People won’t call that much (they don’t even ask for you number) but knock on the door (there are no door bells either) and say hello every time. Such kindness you can only pay in kindness. I wake up first with the swallows and then with the neighbours happily chatting with each other.

As I write you from here and cannot even be under the burning sun in this afternoon, I’m thinking of the slow pace everything has taken. I’ve already seen the green landscape turn into a pale brown and yellow, but I still hear and see many pollinators everyday.

The hoopoes have been quieter as they tend to their nests on people’s backyards and gardens. I keep seeing white storks flying far from me most of the time, even when I carefully approach the area where I saw them the day before. It was said that some tourists on a camping van parked by one of the many edges of the lake and that led to a nearby stork nest being rejected by the parents. That makes me question of when we think we are having low impact holidays and carry the slogan “be in nature” on our foreheads but inadvertently cause such things to happen. It made me think of what could I be doing that is similar.
Taking the bicycle has been wonderful – I love to bike and it takes me far very quickly. Getting used to separate to the sounds of the chains and wheels from the surrounding is not easy. I often stop abruptly to check on something I end up not knowing if it was there or not. Previously, while walking, I got scared of my own breathing (this was post trauma after wild boar encounters). My noisy clothes bothered me but those pants were the best to protect my legs when walking in the fields or sitting surrounded by thousands of mosquitoes, or would it happen I’d fall – you never know.
I’ve been delighted to hear the many insects on the grass with its flowery texture, that places me just in the sweet spot between Spring and Summer. I’ve never seen the Golden Oriole but I recorded it in some mornings. I learned how a flock of medium-size birds sound when they fly over your head (possibly black storks) – in fact I thought a spontaneous phase problem occurred as I was recording, when, within a second or so, my eyes caught them passing above and flying far over the hill. My ears confirmed the most beautiful acoustics are found between hills and over lakes. It’s shimmering and it’s always listening and replying back, just like a secret identity in a fairytale. And despite the yellow fields, there are green spots full of dazing flowers. The clouds are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and many times I go out to look at them and don’t even bother to record. I gaze at the strong pink and lilac sunset reflecting over the lake, turning the sky into a pale pink on the other side.

For the first time I’m taking a lot of pictures because there is just something spectacular about this place.

But seeing oak trees drying up triggers worries and it always makes me sad. Despite all the beauty everywhere you turn your head, the weather is harsh – dropping and rising abruptly from night to day. Seeing the water everywhere is so soothing but what damage has the dam caused? I remember as a child seeing news about this big feat, an impressive engineering work which would now make water reach villages that faced drought and thirst in the summer. Now I think what other way could have been.

Initially, I planned to release this recording work by the end of June, but this became much bigger than its sounds. I’m still discovering and I’m yet to have a sense of wholeness imprinted in digital files. This has been such a deep and interesting experience – to record slow. It started to develop my own views to the questions of what would the difference be: between being here for a long while, breathing in and getting selective about pressing the REC button, in opposition to arriving, looking at the great view, pressing REC and leave with an “I’ve been here” stamp sort of thing.

That’s it! Thank you for passing by!

3 thoughts on “Updates and thoughts on people vs nature

  1. thanks for sharing this thoughts!.
    quite relatable and also have been thinking about this alot with my practice of field recording.
    alot about the spaces, sites and locations i intend to record.
    i feel some places arent even meant to be recorded.
    listening should come before making the decision to record/ carry the recorder.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Joseph!
      When the practice involves listening and somewhat caring, a lot comes into play in the process; much more than merely creating a long snapshot. But I never thought about not recording as in not meant to be. Happy to talk more about that 🙂

    2. Hi Joseph, very true words, the last line especially. It is almost if there are so few pristine natural soundscapes left that haven’t in some way been altered by human sound that it would be wrong to record them.
      I used to be a travel journalist and the quest was always to find the places that hadn’t been spoiled by tourism — and then tell my readers about them. (You can see my dilemma.) I am no longer a travel journalist 😉

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