Monday, January 25, 2010

"But nobody's listening"*

Do you ever get the feeling that you are screaming in a crowded room and are just being ignored? That even you are ignoring yourself? How often do you really listen without once thinking of how to get your own two cents into a conversation? For that matter, do ever just listen to hear what's going on in the world?

Sometimes the noise pollution of music, television, trucks, cars, conversations, fluorescent light bulbs, even my own thoughts get so crowded in my head that I can't think anymore. I recently decided to embark on a daunting project in self-introspection and in preparation for that, I have taken a few quiet walks in an attempt to unplug my brain from the normal noise pollution and tune into some new sounds, namely, those of the beach in wintertime.

In winter, the beach whispers to you. It's miles away from the cacophony of the beach in summer. The subtlety is refreshing (as is the blustery wind). The more I listen, the more it's like a drug. I want to push the tolerance of my hearing further to hear deeper. Then I want to specifically identify each sound and search out its source, my head bobbing back and forth in an effort to catch each with my eyes (oh, how dependent we humans are on eyesight). Here's some of what I observed:

  • My mouth smacking my gum (admittedly, it wasn't very smart to chew gum on a sound-seeking walk). Luckily that was one noise pollutant I could easily get rid of.
  • At low tide, the soft lapping of the waves. Their gentle swooshing fading into the background. The bubbly fizz as algae and grass dry in the sun, like I can hear the water evaporating.
  • At high tide, the louder breaking of slightly bigger waves (still not a crashing--it's only Long Island Sound after all). The slap of water against the concrete tide wall.
  • A rush of wind in my ears, which fades and rises with the mood of the ocean. The sniffles of my own nose.
  • The harsh squawk of a seagull. A cry of alarm at the approaching stranger (that would be me). Another seagull's high-pitched whine, sounding over and over again, maybe seeking attention from the stranger.
  • The melodies of the songbirds, present even in winter. Their cheeps soft and sweet compared to the crude cries of the seagulls.
  • The quiet tread of my sneakers on the sidewalk, the crunch a little louder when I walk over sand.
  • Louder than the crunch of my sneakers is the crunch of car tires on asphalt. Some cars purr, other squeak and clank in protest.
  • The swish, swish, swish as the sleeves of my coat brush up against the coat's body. A few minutes later, a new swish as a man in warm-up pants jogs by. Who knew clothing could be so loud?
  • The rwor, rwor, rwor of an airplane (my head tilts to the sky to see it), distinct from the whir, whir, whir of a helicopter.
  • The jingle of a dog collar, a muted cousin to the metallic plink of a flag flapping against its pole.
  • A drip, drip, drip as ice and snow melts. Even more drips as a man takes advantage of the (relatively) warm day to wash his car. His low car radio, which would be common in the summer, foreign in this winter world.
  • The diesel roar of an oil-spill response truck as it sucks someone's beach house clean. Its rumbling a blight on my experiment as it drowns out all other sounds.
  • The quiet crunch, crunch of another person. Soft hellos exchanged by strangers bound by a mutual interest of walking on the beach.
  • A carefree wak, wak, wak of a duck. Is it laughing? Another duck certainly not laughing as it quacks at a seagull that gets too close.
  • The frantic chirps of songbirds taking off in fright. The rustle of dead leaves, almost imperceptible in the wind and waves.

There's more, but I'll leave you with that for now. It's amazing what you can hear when you're actually listening.

*Linkin Park