10 Sounds That Make You Feel More Alive

1. The Floating Trumpet
Imagine Louis Armstrong with lungs the size of a Volkswagen and a trumpet the size of a hollow cedar tree. Now imagine Louis pouring every hour of practice, every smoky-hall performance, every ounce of his huge soul into a single pure note set free over a mirror-calm sea. That’s the sound that occasionally lifts from the nose of a humpback whale on a late summer evening. Hear it once and it will long echo against the walls of memory.

2. The Wave of Whispers
Barnacles, those crusted critters clustered on intertidal rocks, are, at first listen, not the most vocal of species. But pass the shadow of your body over a low-tide boulder on a still morning and you’ll hear a wave of whispers, all those little lives drawing tight the fortress of their shells to keep the looming monster at bay.

3. The Afternoon Snack
Inside the barnacle’s sharp, white walls is the fleshy goo of the critter itself. You’d have to eat a thousand to make a meal, which is just what bears do, mushing the helpless crustaceans with a paw and then licking the crushed mess from the rock. Barnacles being crunched to death is not, honestly, that compelling a sound, but when it’s happening between the molars of a six-hundred-pound bear and you’re close enough to hear, it becomes a hair-raising, smile-inducing, how-did-I-get-so-lucky-to-be-alive racket.

4. The Frozen Burp
Paddle up an inlet filled with glacial ice and listen closely as you float by each bobbing berg. Some (not all) hiss and pop, releasing tiny bubbles of air captured by snowflakes in a storm that swirled before white-wigged men declared this country’s independence. Atmospheric burps from another time bubbling by the bow of your boat.

5. The Prehistoric Cackle
Every minute of the last million years, a sandhill crane somewhere on the planet has called out in a seamless lineage of cackling, bugling brilliance. Lay your body beneath a sky of circling cranes and ride their voices back through a landscape prowled by short-faced bears and giant sloths. Listen to the glaciers come and go, other species rise and fall. As the cranes slip to specks on the edge of hearing, follow their fading voices to the horizon of dinosaurs.

6 – 9. The Click-Snap-Snuffle-Crunch
In a beachside meadow on a day without a twitch of wind, lie down and wait. In between the rumbling roar of bees, listen for the delicate whir of dragonflies in flight and the quick click, click as they nip the wings from their midday meal of fresh mosquito. Wait for the sun to dry the seed pods of lupine to the snapping point. When they finally twist open, listen for the pellets of seeds raining in all directions. And, if you’re really lucky, just after a raven passes, air rushing through each primary feather, you might hear the snuffling rustle of a hunting shrew and the triumphant crunch of impossibly tiny teeth tearing into the dull armor of a beetle’s back.

10. The Belly Jiggler
And the sound we cannot hear enough: two friends at the campfire, eyes and ears filled to bursting with the day’s adventure, and when one friend says something with only the tiniest trace of actual humor the other responds with a belly-jiggling chuckle that catches in the first friend’s throat and causes him to snort like a pig and soon both friends are laughing like they haven’t laughed since the third grade, laughing at laughter herself, the mischievous child born of the marriage of all that is gorgeous in the world and how preciously little time we have to soak it all in.

Hank Lentfer is a sound recordist, gardener, and writer. Most mornings he’s out listening to his wild neighbors and expanding his catalogue of natural sounds. Hank lives with his wife and daughter on the banks of a small stream on the edge of a tiny town in the expansive landscape of Southeast Alaska.


  1. Ever heard a primrose pop? A group of 8 women friends used to gather one early summer evening each year to watch the evening primrose blossoms open. A bud would barely begin to quiver; then you could see the petals beginning to unfurl. Suddenly, the blossom would open fully, and I swear you could almost hear it go “Pop!” ever so gently. After watching a few dozen blossoms pop, we finished off the evening with old-fashioned desserts: bread pudding, rice pudding, and tapioca pudding. We called it the Primrose Popping and Pudding Party.

  2. On occasion you can hear the sound of the earth warming in a State Park overlooking Tomales Bay north of San Francisco. The Bishop Pines respond to what seems to be an uncharacteristically superheated day. The cones open with a sound reminicent of popping corn without the whine of an air popper. The popping is followed by the sound of “rain drops” as the released seeds fall through the canopy to the ground. It can last for hours or even days.

  3. What a great line to describe laughter: “the mischievous child born of the marriage of all that is gorgeous in the world and how preciously little time we have to soak it all in.”
    Thanks for this. I remember to give my world an extra listen today.

  4. The oscillating buzz of annual cicadas on hot Midwest summer afternoons. Enhanced even more with the swishing sound of lawn sprinklers and the smell of hot turf grass!

  5. 1. Murmurations of 1000s of snow geese, rising and settling on Brigantine marshes in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

    2. Winds in the tops of evergreens along the PInelands’ Batona Trail, and no other sounds

    3. Child laughter on sleds zooming down a snowy hill, –preferably wooden Flexible Flyers on shining metal runners

    4. The no-sound of my kayak prow, cleaving Delaware & Raritan Canal water

    5. Any wren

    6. Any thrush

    7. Tiny bells of peeper chorus, which will peal as soon as we have 3 nights above freezing

    8. Hushed clatter of fiddler crabs, scurrying to and from their holes, in ancient peat, at Scott’s Landing , near Leeds’ Point, in the Jersey Pine Barrens.

    9. The whisper-whoosh of dolphin breath, making me look up from my book, as I read on a dock in Savannah’s Skidaway River

    10. Soft rain — does anyone remember soft rain?

  6. I remember soft rain, its gentle pitter on the canvas of my tent at Girl Scout Camp.

    The sound of the wings of Canada Geese flying silently at rooftop height through falling snow one December morning. Snow is the ultimate silencer and there was no other sound save the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of their flight.

    Once I took a nap in my truck on the shore of a lake near Delores Colorado. Thin shards of ice had piled in the cove where I parked my truck. The wind was lightly stroking the water which jostled the broken shards together. The sound was more melodious than any wind chime I’ve heard before or since.

  7. I was on the path heading for the chicken coop as the Sun was barely peering over the horizon. It was a brisk clear Winter morning with no breeze yet. A sound so faint came to my ears I stopped walking so as to hear it more clearly. What was this eery music — so delicate, so harmonic, so crystalline? I looked all around and then above me where I stood just downhill from a grand Digger Pine. The rising Sun was casting its golden warmth upon the top of the tree and easing its way downward moment by moment. And as it did so, a trillion flecks of ice fine as lint were cascading downward, too, and touching one another as they fell. They were shimmering and iridescent and matched the music I was hearing. Ice chimes. I felt shivers of ecstasy as I listened and watched. And also, being human, I had to surmise: The needles of the Digger Pine, having been sheathed in a thin layer of ice the night before, were now expanding by the warmth of the Winter Sun and unsheathing themselves. A few moments later, the ice was melting, and the music changed to water drops. But for a moment, Ice Chimes. It was a very short-lived phenomenon, but couldn’t not happen given the circumstances, and I am very grateful to have been there when it did.

  8. Strolling through an arbutus wood one hot afternoon we heard, ever so faintly, a sibilant clicking as if tiny beetles were sharpening their jaws – no, it was more of a falling sound, like coarse pepper being shaken onto newspaper. Arbutus all around us were shedding their red-brown bark in the drying heat. In thin, curling shreds and polygons it lay everywhere. I felt as if we had intruded into a private act, a quiet changing of garments meant to be presented, like a woman now dressed for a ball, as a finished miracle.

  9. Hear, over wind and waters rush, one whispery splat woosh, a porpoise surfaces, snuffles air then slide/ glides under water. Rolling, ever so slightly , eye meets knowing eye, for a while you travel together, sharing air, sea, stars, and a full bright moon.
    Gulf of Mexico, 75 nautical miles from land.

  10. whenever i have some free time, even when i don’t i make time for myself to just sit and think. its a real treat when your out among the beautiful, and completely separate universe of untouched wilderness. In New Mexico we have a special blessing of being so close to one of the last free-flowing rivers in the U.S. my school takes us backpacking in this wonderland, there are no words to describe it, its like a dream walking along a canyon that is covered in grass and vegetation. the most exhilarating moment is when you finally make to the top and end of the canyon. and in front of you sits one of the most monumental historical landscapes that will ever have the chance of knowing in this painfully short life. this article has allowed me to have further joys in my happy place thank you.

  11. Lucky you, Marco. Are you talking about the Gila River? NM is a special place, truly a land of enchantment.

Commenting on this item is closed.