The Sounds of Summer

A wood frog stares warily from his wetlands perch on moss in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A wood frog stares from its mossy, wetlands perch in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


What are your favorite sounds of summer? The pulsing cadence of cicadas, creaking chorus of pond frogs, or clicking whirr of grasshoppers are common sounds heard in regions across the United States. Summer wouldn’t be the same without them.

The sounds of our environment enhance perceptions in ways unique from sight. Summer is the perfect time to reflect on what you hear in the world around you. American Composer Pauline Oliveros used the term deep listening to describe “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear ... the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one’s own thoughts, as well as musical sounds.”

From hissing geysers to battlefield trumpets, sounds are part of a web of natural and cultural resources that the National Park Service protects. They reveal the special qualities that define these places. The NPS invites you to practice deep listening in order to hear the rich range of sounds that rise from the ground around you, from the familiar to the unusual.

Some sounds are so common we may take them for granted and not hear them at all, like crickets on a summer night. Other sounds are unexpected and stand out; the shake of a rattlesnake’s tail, boom of thunder, or roar of wildfire bring us to full attention. Some sounds are delicate and fleeting, like a woodpecker’s tap, or the rustle of birds in the brush. Cultural sounds also define our listening experiences, from the honk and hum of traffic to children at play. Silence, too, plays a part in the sonic scene. By paying attention to these layers of sounds, we come to know and appreciate another aspect of our environment. What are some common sounds in your environment?
A coyote pricks its ears to sounds in its environment
Bring your deep listening skills with you the next time you visit a national park. You may be surprised by what you hear. On walking outdoors, Oliveros advised, to “walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.” Try this in order to fully experience the tapestry of sounds in these protected places. What sounds can you identify? What might they tell you about the area and its inhabitants? How are these sounds different from those heard at home?

Whether you are in your neighborhood or a national park, we hope your summer inspires you to reflect on the range of sounds around you!

Learn more about sound and sound resources:
National Park Service Natural Sounds Website
Natural Sounds Website Sound Gallery
Teaching Materials
Enhance Your Soundscape
Yellowstone National Park Sound Library
Yellowstone NP Audio Postcards

"Deep Listening is listening to everything all the time, and reminding yourself when you're not. But going below the surface too, it's an active process. It's not passive. I mean hearing is passive in that soundwaves hinge upon the eardrum. You can do both. You can focus and be receptive to your surroundings. If you're tuned out, then you're not in contact with your surroundings. You have to process what you hear. Hearing and listening are not the same thing." —Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

Julie West, Communications Specialist, Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division

Last updated: July 26, 2017