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Nature & You: Listen to the 'heartbeat' of a tree

Who would have guessed the internet is your source for inexpensive, disposable stethoscopes? Not me!

At just $2 a pop, they serve a function as a fun toy with which to have some outdoor fun. Now is the time of the year to submit your order for a few of these handy dandy medical devices. You need to have them in hand well before the first inklings of the spring season make themselves apparent. Thus outfitted, you’ll be prepared to listen in on the magical time when our state’s native trees wake up from their mid-winter slumber.

Select an Oklahoma born and bred tree that has a thin “skin.” That sort of thing is necessary if you can be expected to hear the sounds coming from just under the bark. My favorite choice is the native plum trees. These trees explode into bloom very, very early in the late-winter portion of the year. Just prior to that event, the tree sap makes a “gurgling” sound as it rushes from the tree’s roots up to the apex of the tree.

You’ll want to mask any interference from other ambient sounds coming from the surroundings. What I do is place the stethoscope listening device on the tree trunk and then enclose it within several wraps of a big, fluffy bath towel. The soft fabric will mute any extraneous noises that are in the nearby woodland.

I might also take this time to caution you that not every one of your neighborhood friends are going to be as conscientious as you in keeping their ears free of yucky ear wax. This fun outdoor activity is best done if you buy enough stethoscopes so each member of your nature adventure group will have their own toy with which to give this experiment a go.

Have fun!

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center. His email is