Enjoying the silence of nature

The Nature Call: Sounds of silence have changed over time

The Jay G. Sigmund Memorial Site in a Linn County Conservation Board park outside of Waubeek. (John Hanson/community contributor)
The Jay G. Sigmund Memorial Site in a Linn County Conservation Board park outside of Waubeek. (John Hanson/community contributor)

Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board. 


“Evening brought by whippoorwhills (sic)

Morning ushered in by thrushes

Midnight brooding on my hills —

Soft frog croonings in my rushes.”


Along the banks of the Wapsi rests a marker for Jay G. Sigmund.

He was a local boy who done good. Born in 1885, he grew up near the river in a world not yet despoiled by the cacophony of machines, appliances and speakers that we take for granted. Sigmund did well enough to earn the vice presidency of Mutual of Omaha. Alas, his love and loyalty to the river forced him to decline the honor so he could continue his renaissance life in Cedar Rapids as a businessman, civic participant, father and poet — and within an easy drive to Waubeek.

Much of his writing concerned silence. No, not that of a vacuum, but the magical silence of nature, a silence filled with pleasing sounds and nothing to offend the ears.

The opening lines of this effort was the first stanza from Sigmund’s poem, “Morning Mist On The Wapsipinicon.” I, too, like to listen to the ancient concerts out of doors — choruses of frogs, rhetoric from a Robin and the rhythms of a gurgling stream.

Sometimes it seems like a chore to find that honest silence though any effort always is repaid in spades.

Sigmund described the sounds of his time. If he and I could compare notes, then certainly we’d find overlap: a quack from suzie mallard, the ruckus of carp when spawning, maybe, too, the muted bark from a red fox. Of course today, you and I would add the noises from air conditioners, grain dryers and someone’s throbbing car stereo to the list. But we also would add voices to the natural science that Sigmund did not hear.

We have the luck of living now, at the end of 2017 and an Iowa that in some respects is more alive biologically than Sigmund’s time. Have your heard those voices? What would they be?

To be continued.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.



Editor's note: Brandon Caswell has been fascinated in natural history since he was 5 years old. He has undergraduate degrees in biology, anthropology and geology. He enjoys bird-watching and nature photography. His current studies ...

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