By Kennedy Zittel, Assistant Naturalist
Psithurism: The sound of the wind in the trees
From: Greek word “Psithuros” meaning to whisper
For nature lovers, the fall is both wonderful and sad all at once. A season of hellos. A season of goodbyes. A season of changes. In the fall we say hello to migrating birds that are either just passing through or those that choose to come and stay here for the winter. In the fall we also prepare to say goodbye to many of the creatures we grew accustomed to seeing each day as they prepare to sleep throughout the cold winter. The green leaves we grew used to seeing above our heads and alongside us as we walked the trails are now turning shades of reds, oranges, yellows, and purples. The grass that used to grow green now turns to different shades of brown under our feet. Though this season is a whirlwind of changes that seems to always fly by so quickly, it truly is one of the best times to hear the songs of the forest.
Taking a stroll through the forest in the fall allows us to hear the psithurism of the trees around us. Those leaves that are now a sunrise color palette overhead begin to turn brittle and cling to the branches with an ever-decreasing strength. When the wind blows through the branches the leaves change the volume from a once soft whisper to a loud rustling noise. This increase in volume begins to turn a walk through the forest into an almost musical experience. The wind howls its own portion of the fall song while it helps the leaves rustle and rattle in the branches above. With every step you take you add to the music with soft crunching noises that we associate so well with fall.
Animals like squirrels and rabbits scurry through the fallen leaves looking for the last bits of food before the winter. Birds that are migrating through change up the forest’s song each day. Depending on who is singing, the songs from the brush alongside the trail can vary day by day. The last of the frogs croak and peep one last time before they make their beds below the leaf litter until spring. Acorns and pinecones fall to the ground from the sky above with soft thumps as they land at the base of the trees, just waiting to be carried away by a hungry animal. The once green grass turns to shades of brown and whooshes in the wind.
As the season progresses the wind begins to blow with a stronger force. The once loudly rattling leaves now turn into a decrescendo of rustles until they all soon fall to the forest floor. The animals that were once scurrying around are now asleep in their winter homes, not ready to make a noise until spring comes. The birds are done migrating through, and those that are left are here for the whole winter. Creating a more steady song in the forest. Frogs are now underground waiting for spring to thaw them out before they begin their song again. The conifer trees held onto their modified leaves and continue to do so as the wind whistles softly through their branches. Though one might think that the end of fall has brought a grand pause in the forest’s music, it has merely just created a new song for the time being. You can still hear the forest whisper and sing as you walk, just a different more soothing song as the blanket of snow covers the ground and ice crystals cling to the branches alongside the trail. Regardless of the season, it is always good to go out and listen to nature around you, as you never know what kind of concert it is ready to put on until you get out and listen.