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The Lost Art of Listening

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Sound artist Brian Harnetty wants to transform the future of Appalachian Ohio’s forests through radical acts of listening.

This story was produced in collaboration with Columbus Alive, a news outlet in Columbus, Ohio.

“OK, so we’ll just listen for a few minutes.”

Brian Harnetty sits in a metal folding chair in a clearing at the base of Robinson’s Cave in Wayne National Forest, which covers nearly a quarter million acres in the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. About 20 others join Harnetty, seated in a circle on a warm, humid Saturday morning in May, their chairs slowly puncturing the soft ground.

For more than 10 minutes, no one says a word. It takes a bit to settle into the quiet, to live in it comfortably, but soon the vibe becomes meditative. It feels like a ritual. Some people bow their heads. Some fold their hands and close their eyes. Others scan the woods that surround the clearing.

A sycamore partially shades the circle of listeners, dappling sunlight into the middle of the ring. As the wind blows, the swaying branches and quivering leaves of countless trees create a kind of woodwind symphony. Someone’s stomach growls. A dog barks; it sounds enormous and menacing. The trill of a red-bellied woodpecker dominates an improvisational chorus of birdsongs. At times, motorcycle engines temporarily take over as they cruise along Main Street in New Straitsville, a town known for its Moonshine Festival that sits just below the clearing.

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