Nature can be barbaric, dissonant, and downright metal.
Nature can be barbaric, dissonant, and downright metal. (Photo: jimkruger/iStock)

When Nature Gets Heavy Metal

Nature can be barbaric, dissonant, and downright metal.

Search online music platform for “nature” and you get a lot of stuff designed to help you relax. Recordings of chirping rainforest creatures, gently tumbling waves, a pulsing didgeridoo—it’s what you expect during a massage treatment. The reality is that nature is often far from tranquil. It can be barbaric, dissonant, and downright metal. In that spirit, this week’s episode presents two tales that pay homage to nature’s thrasher tendencies. One involves a threatening predator that was fought off with Metallica. After that, we’ll hear from a professional hard rocker who attempted to be the hero of a shipwrecked crew, and shared his experience at a storytelling event hosted by The Moth.

Editor’s note: the audio file has been updated to eliminate an offensive term. Outside regrets allowing the phrase to appear in the earlier version.  

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.




Outside Podcast Theme: From Outside Magazine and PRX, this is the Outside Podcast.

[Tranquil music plays]

Michael Roberts (Host): If you were to associate a type of music with nature, what would it be? Maybe something acoustic, peaceful, or meditative? That’s what big music companies think, at least. When I type “nature” into Spotify or Apple Music and scroll through the playlists, here’s what I get: Nature Meditation. Nature sounds for sleep. Bird sounds. Piano sleep music, Rainforest sounds. Nature Spa. Baby Sleep Aid (not to be confused with Calm Baby: Soothing Harp). And one of our favorites here at the podcast: Didgeridoo Dreamtime.


[Musical pause]

There’s also some classic rap from Naughty by Nature. But, you know, keywords.

Anyway, the point is, while nature is associated with tranquility for many people, nature is often anything but.

[Music shifts to minor key]

It can be barbaric, dissonant, and downright heavy metal.

Consider the great grey shrike, a.k.a. The Butcher Bird, a cute little songbird that impales its prey on thorns and rips them into pieces for eating. Sometimes they leave prey skewered and rotting for days, waiting for defensive toxins to subside from the corpse until they feast on the remains.

This is not Didgeridoo Dreamtime.

[Music stops]

So today we present two different stories that realign nature with its ... thrasher tendencies.

One involves an encounter with a wild predator that called for the emergency deployment of Metallica. After that, we’ll hear from a professional hard rocker who became the unlikely hero of a shipwrecked crew.

Our first piece comes from Denise Gallant, who takes us into the woods of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You might have seen brief reports about her experience with a cougar this past summer. When we posted a short interview with her on Outside Online, it blew up our site. But I promise you, it's worth hearing her tell her full story in her own words.

[Music begins]

Denise Gallant: My name is Denise Gallant, everyone calls me D. Um, I'm from Chemainus, BC  and I, I work in, I'm a workforce adviser for the forestry council.

[Sound of footsteps outside]

Gallant: It was, uh, end of July and I, in the evening, usually go and take my dog for a walk or hike and, um, it was getting a little bit dusky. So usually I stay a bit closer to home when it starts to get, you know, sundown. But, um, this time I thought, oh, I'm going to go out on my old faithful trail that I like. And it's an old logging road.

My dog's named Murphy, and he is an eight-year-old Husky Retriever cross. Um, he's about 115 pounds and he is, uh, his own person. He doesn't listen most of the time and, uh, he's quite reactive to other dogs, but he loves people and kids and apparently he doesn't pay any attention to cougars.

I got out and I started up the trail a couple of kilometers with my dog and I just, I kind of had this really weird feeling that something was watching me.

You just have this sort of... the hair goes back up on the back of your neck. And you can kind of feel, um, just get that, like, shiver kind of something's behind me and just makes you want to turn around.

And so I kind of looked over to my right and I saw this brown. And I thought—my first thought was, oh, it's a deer. And then I thought, no, that's the wrong color.

And then, oh, that's a cougar. And then: Oh. That's a cougar.

[Music becomes foreboding]

And you know, I thought that was really neat, was my first thought, cause you don't often see a cougar.

I've seen cougars before, but usually just the tail end of them running off into the bush. And I had my dog on a leash. Um, and he normally he barks at things, but he didn't even notice the cougar at all. He was kind of sniffing around the bushes and looking for bunnies and not really paying attention, cause the wind was going the wrong way.

Then I noticed he was coming towards me, so he was crouched down, he was prowling, he had his bum up in the air and he was walking like actually towards me. That's when my heart went, um, this is not a good situation.


I don't want to say that I wasn't scared, but I didn't feel scared in the moment. Like I felt, like, I... I was fairly calm. I had it kind of under control. I thought if he hadn't stopped coming towards me I probably would've been a lot more scared.

I volunteer for a wildlife recovery center, so I actually deal with a lot of wildlife. So I rescue and transport and then, um, take them to the vet or to the rehab facility and then help with the releases sometimes. All different kinds of wildlife. Raccoons, seals, herons. Um, I just had an owl overnight a couple of weeks ago that was hit by a car and the recovery center was closed, so I had to keep him overnight and then transport him to the vet in the morning and get him x-rayed.

I'm that girl that… I drive around with a net and five different size boxes and blankets and towels in my truck just in case I get a call. So I do a lot of reading up on them and learning about wildlife and animals. You know, cougars, you, you make yourself appear larger and you don't back away. Just stay there and sort of be the dominant one.

Now, what do I do? And my mind was going through all sorts of plans of action. Do I pick up a rock and throw it? No, you don't want to bend down in front of a cougar. You know, you don't want to appear any shorter than you are. And, and then I was thinking, okay, can I clap my hands? But then I thought, then my dog's gonna, you know, thinks something's up and he's gonna start acting funny. And I said, what can I do here? So that's when I just started, you know, talking calmly to him and I said, you're bad kitty, you're a bad kitty. Go on now. And just, [Laughs] you know, kind of calmly try to encourage him to leave.

[Audio clip of a phone recording]

Gallant: [Hisses] Get out of here. Go on. Bad kitty.

[Clip fades]

Gallant: I thought, okay, so he's not afraid of me, and he's still looking at me.

[Audio clip resumes]

Gallant: You little bastard.

[Clip ends]

Gallant: And things are, you know, going okay, I'm holding my own here, but um, could go either way at this point. And then I thought, what's the most human, scary sound that I can sort of make at this point? And then I thought, ah, on my phone, I can play some heavy metal.

[Heavy metal music begins to play]

Gallant: And then I thought, what song? And I opened, and, actually, when I was looking through my phone, I was careful. I didn't even want to put my head down to look at my phone. So I still had my phone sort of up in front of me while I was scrolling through. [Laughs] Cause I didn't want to look like I was getting, you know, lower to the ground at all.

Um, just, I have a lot of, uh, mellower stuff too. I have a lot of metal, but I have a lot of, um, like, uh, I don't know what was there like Jack Johnson [Laughs] and things like that that I'm going, Oh, that's not gonna work. Not gonna work. Norah Jones. [Laughs]

And, uh, and then I scrolled through, and I saw Metallica’s Don't Tread on Me. I thought that is exactly the message I need.

[Into to Metallica’s Don’t Tread on Me plays]

That intro, for that song in particular, it kind of starts with a punch in the face. Like the, just the way that the beat goes, it starts out loud.

[Intro to Metallica’s Don’t Tread on Me plays once more]

I chose that song, and made sure my volume was up as high as my little iPhone would go, and I hit play. And, uh, the first, first few notes of the intro and he was gone.

[Metallica’s Don’t Tread on Me resumes mid-song]

He just turned sideways and took right off.

[Pause, with calm music coming in]

I felt empowered when I played it and he ran away. I was like, Oh yeah, take that. You know, and then I just, I kind of had it in my hand and I felt safe having it that it was, it was there. And then I've been out there a few times since and um, I've, I've thought about, you know, what I would do again. I think I would do the same thing.

It was great, because nobody got hurt, I didn't get hurt, the cougar didn't get killed, you know, there was no bad story here. Like there was nothing horrible that happened. It was an, it was a pretty cool experience. And, and I actually, um, I heard that the Don't Tread on Me sales went up 1500% following my story going viral.

[News clip begins]

News anchor: Well a Vancouver Island woman’s heavy metal moment is going viral. She was out on a hike with her dog when a cougar began stalking them.

[End news clip]

Gallant: I've been a Metallica fan since I was probably about 13. Metallica was my all-time favorite. It would just be, like daily. You have a daily thing, you come home, you have a fight with your parents, you crank up Metallica, you know? [Laughs]

I had got a message on messenger from the artist liaison from Metallica and she said: One of the band members would like to reach out to you. Could I please have your contact information? And Kirk Hammett had posted a link to my story on his page. And so I thought it was going to be him and then I, so I gave her my contact information, I was super excited. And, and then I was at work sitting there and, uh, this number came in and it was a long distance number I didn't recognize. And I answered it. And this voice said, hi, Denise, this is James Hetfield of Metallica.

And, uh, if I had known that, that he would have called me when I was 13 I literally would have had a heart attack. I wouldn't even have been able to speak to him because he's a, he was so much my idol.

And so all the, the Metallica fans out there are happy about that. You know, they've all reached out to me on Facebook. [Laughs]

I had a lady call me, and she had absolutely debilitating PTSD and she used to go hiking with her dogs all the time and she stopped going out of fear of cougars. And she saw my story. She, it struck a chord with her. She downloaded some heavy metal and went for a hike with her dogs that day. So, um, she was thanking me for giving her sort of a bit of a push to go out and get out into the wilderness again.

[Music transition]

Roberts: We’ll be right back.


Roberts: Our next story offers a very different take on the intersection of hard rock and the wild. It comes from Mishka Shubaly, a professional musician who spent time touring with The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Decemberists, among other artists. He also writes and performs his own music… and he’s a talented comedian, as will be obvious when you listen to his experience of being shipwrecked, which he performed at an event hosted by The Moth.

If you don’t know The Moth, you should. Their live storytelling events have people sharing true tales without notes to audiences around the world. Mishka’s was featured in The Moth’s awesome podcast.

One quick editing note: we’ve updated this recording to eliminate an offensive term that we should have caught and edited out from the beginning. Thanks to the listeners who wrote in and told us about it.

[Clip from The Moth’s Radio Hour] 

Listen to Mishka Shubaly’s story on The Moth here:

Roberts: That was Mishka Shubaly, speaking at a live storytelling event hosted by The Moth. Find out more about their gatherings and their podcast at

And you can learn more about Mishka Shubaly’s work at his website:

Denise Gallant’s story was produced by Alex Ward, with music by Robbie Carver, Goran Andrić, and most notably, Metallica, which is headlining 5 festivals in 2020. Get details and buy tickets at

This episode of the Outside Podcast was brought to you by LL Bean, which knows what the people in your life want for gifts this holiday season: to be cozy. So get them what they want at LL Bean: Be an Outsider.

We’ll be back next week.

Follow the Outside Podcast

Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.