It is true what they say about some of your senses getting better after one or more of the others is compromised in some way. This has certainly been true in my case; as my vision has waned, what I like to call my “Spidey hearing” has taken me to an entirely new level of immersing myself in the natural world. It’s worth noting that, as we get this essay underway, the nature of my hearing change is not one of greater volume nearly as much as it is a heightened sensitivity to a wider range of frequencies.
A curious side effect of the medical issues behind my vision loss is moderate to severe tinnitus. Instead of this further compromising my hearing it has actually heightened my sensitivity to sound in peculiar ways. In particular, and this isn’t going to make sense just yet, when I sit quietly on my porch or in the yard, and the world is still and quiet – no cars, passers by, sirens or dogs barking – the worldly human silence is truly deafening.
As a species, we are not terribly-well wired, in the modern civilized World, to sit quietly still and it is antithetical to our nature to forcibly isolate and immobilize ourselves. With a little practice, though, if you try really hard, what you will quickly discover is that nature is deafeningly loud. Her subtle beauty and simplicity, her perpetual chaos and operatic cacophony of sound, echoes and reverberates all around us – if only we would listen to her booming voice – like a Seaside wave breaking at the rise of the tide.
Whereas the silence coming from the human world is the absence of sound, implying human inactivity, there can be no silence found in the natural world; nature is alive, even as elements of her are perpetually dying, others are coming to life and in all ways these things make sounds. Only the level of our willingness and effort can determine how poorly or well we will be able to hear these things and appreciate the raw power and beauty in them.
As nature drapes her winter coat over my little corner of the world, covering us inside an invisible Amphitheater, she submerges us in an acoustic wonderland where sound, echo, and reverberation are prolonged and waft gently through the crisp, dry, sub-freezing air that magnifies what emanates from the dying leaves, the Contracting tree trunks, and the chilled whispers of both the feathered and furry populations that remain to defend themselves against the necessarily harsh enforcement of her winter laws.
At this time of year, once the Sun fades into the horizon, like a night shift clocking in, Nature’s symphonic orchestra dampens the lights, tucks the feathered ones comfortably into their roosts, and brings the furry ones to their feet. The sound of footfalls, accompanied by the rustling of leaves and the incessant gnawing, scraping, and burrowing, collide and begin to rise above the settling cold air that will moisten the ground by night’s end. If you close your eyes and listen very closely, you can let your mind wander as you try to imagine which creature might be making each of the sounds that surround you.
I have found, over the years, that her loudest voices are best heard after midnight. If you layer up and brave the lower temperatures you will find that this is the window of time where the fear of predators is outweighed by the desperate need for a successful night of foraging. It is also this time of night when most people are in bed, most cars are off the road, no airplanes are taking off or landing and no helicopters are buzzing overhead.
Living a couple of blocks away from a hospital, I can hear the hum of the motors running the air scrubbers on the roof. The volume is low enough, but the “hum” gives off a soothing vibe, and the soft moaning sounds from the occasional car rolling down the road several miles away, sort of like a random percussion in the background, make the whole experience almost surreal as you find yourself starting to think your own breathing has brought all of these sounds together in a pleasant yet eerie four-part harmony. And when you put all this together, it’s impossible to avoid noticing that this is Nature’s song, and she’s smiling at you, noticing that you’re finally starting to “get it” as you collect yourself and head back inside.
While it is true that Nature’s winter brings death, it also brings life and the tune she softly hums as she does it is the song of rebirth, renewal, and hope. There is warmth in her music at this time of year, and she certainly is not being quiet about it… if you listen closely enough.