For years, Zach McKeeby, 17, has been in and out of the Schoharie Creek that runs behind his home in Burtonsville. He’s collected water samples to gauge the creek’s chemical content and surveyed the creek’s valley for wildlife.
But until this week, he’s never just listened.
McKeeby is among a handful of students who concentrated on the sounds — natural and manmade — that surround the historic creekside hamlet this week as part of a summer workshop offered by the Schoharie River Center.
“I like to hike, and being in nature. But I never specifically, for that purpose, listened. It was very cool,” McKeeby said Friday.
Students accompanied composer Michelle Nagai for nature walks both along the creek and in the neighborhood as part of a four-day workshop aimed at bringing a new perspective and appreciation for sounds that help define a place.
The workshop isn’t a quest to discover things that have never been heard, Nagai said.
“It’s less about finding some unique, special sounds, it’s more about getting people to notice … [what] they just don’t really think about,” Nagai said.
“It’s a different way to interface with place, really.”
Students said this week was the first time they’d gone outside specifically to listen, and they found it to be an especially peaceful exercise.
The group walked from the creek’s waters up to the roads of the hamlet, marking down places where different sounds were most audible.
They included noises of nature like the creek’s flowing water, the wind and wildlife and also the sounds of kids playing in the neighborhood, music in the background, cars driving on the roadway and jets flying overhead.
Clayre Caraher, 17, of Delanson, said this week’s workshop will add a new perspective to her outdoor activities. She said she expects to listen to and appreciate all the sounds she’s ignored in the past.
“I always take it for granted,” she said.
The group took to imagining the old days of Burtonsville, once a bustling creekside hamlet with mills, and how sounds have changed or stayed the same.
They intend to develop a map to help visitors find the best places to hear, while adding some local history for context.
The old Methodist Church once hosted pig roasts and parties, said Ben McKeeby, 20.
“People will contemplate what some in that time period might have heard,” he said.
More information about Schoharie River Center programs can be found on the Internet at www.schoharierivercenter.org.