2 min read

By Zoe Weil

Many years ago, my husband and I began noticing a strange recurrence in the woods. Periodically, we’d be walking along and hear the start of an engine, putt-putt-putt, followed by the revving up as the engine catches, followed by… silence. How odd. It was as if our distant neighbors (we live in rural Maine where dwellings are far apart) started up their chainsaws only to stop before actually using them. What was especially weird was that this kept happening, on walks to the ocean by our house, and in the wilderness far from any people at all, and it always followed the exact same pattern: a slow start, the roar of the engine, and nothing. Why were there machines starting and stopping all over the woods? And why could I find no one else who’d ever noticed this? Last weekend, my husband was listening to his bird song app on his iPhone, and he clicked on the Ruffed Grouse. Lo and behold, there was the machine noise, called “drumming,” that the male makes by rapidly flapping his wings while puffing out his chest. At long last, our mystery was solved. After this discovery, I found myself thinking that on the one hand we’ve been pretty observant visitors to the woods. We’ve noticed a sound no one else we know has ever noticed. But on the other hand, I’m struck by the fact that in all these years, it took an iPhone app to identify the source of that sound, and that what we have been convinced had to be mechanical was actually just a bird, the size of a small chicken, flapping his wings. Reason and sleuthing should have led us to the Ruffed Grouse years ago, but we were easily led astray by our senses, which insisted that this sound was a human-made machine, however illogical this obviously was. How easily we come up with faulty explanations for the unknown, believing in false premises, jumping to conclusions, becoming superstitious. But if we’re willing to persevere and allow our curiosity, coupled with our reason, to steer us toward truth, we may yet get there. (Here is a link to hear and see the drumming of the male Ruffed Grouse yourself . You will need good speakers as the frequency is so low that most computers won’t do the sound justice.) For a humane world, Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education. Read more blog posts from Zoe at zoeweil.com. My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"


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