Layers of Sound, Listening

Magpie. I've seen them hold a wake for lost loved one.

Magpie. I’ve seen them hold a wake for lost loved one.

Stomach wriggles, typing keys, clock tick, magpies, train whistle, far drone of freeway. The click of the computer hitting the wooden desk because it wasn’t stable when I typed. A car going by the house and my shoes moving on the carpet when I shifted weight. The occasional rhythm of the computer’s backup and the house’s heating system blowing. All were constant or intermittent sounds in my study on a Monday morning.

I started listening to layers of sound when I was alone during a mountain walk a few years ago. I hadn’t run into anyone for half an hour and I noticed my human intrusion. Sight is my favored sensory reference, but as

Brighton, Utah

Brighton, Utah

I was walking along the trail through pines and aspens, I noticed the sound of my shoes making thudding, large noises. Then I heard my breath and the rub of shirt under my arms. I stopped and sat on a rock. Nothing but trees, dirt, and now I noticed, ants were about. At this point there wasn’t any mountain vista of the valley and I was unable to hear a mountain stream I had earlier seen. I noticed a bird, I heard another call behind me and then I saw a squirrel scamper up a tree, though it was silent. My body sounds of rubbing cloth, busy stomach, beating heart were diminishing, but felt noisy. The quiet had viscosity and my ears felt open, ready to drink, or let pour in, a near palpable un-sound. I haven’t any better words.

Since that day I have spent obscure moments counting layers of sound. During an autumn walk I heard two people lightly talking, the leaves scrunching under my feet, the hum of a neighborhood electrical substation, cars passing by and three dogs barking at me from different yards. Five layers.

Bubbling sugar.

Bubbling sugar.

While I was baking holiday cookies with friends I heard three female voices, scuffling feet, water from a faucet, background music, teaspoons clattering on a granite surface, swish of parchment paper being fitted, bubbling sugar, mixers whipping butter. Eight layers.

Noticing sound layers has made me pay attention to surrounding. Where I am and what I am doing. It has made me realize life’s simultaneous cacophony, and symphony. That every object has presence of self. Nothing is without voice. Occasionally paying conscious attention to sound is, I think, teaching me how to appreciate its presence as a oneness that allows me to maybe learn a little from the silence.

Los Angeles Equestrian Park

At the Los Angeles Equestrian Park.

At the Los Angeles Equestrian Park.

Voices Spanish and English
Horses, Quinn’s plea
Newspaper page turns
On hangers, brushes
Plastic jar of red licorice opened
Water coursing as brushed from shower on horse
Little birds
Water in bucket
Clop of horse hooves on dirt can make whole world sound like a watermelon.

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13 Responses to Layers of Sound, Listening

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Unless I’m working, I always have something on in the background. Usually music but sometimes TV. Your words remind me that sometimes I need to just let myself listen to the natural sounds around me. It’s amazing how strongly we can tune them out!

  2. Yes, it’s easy to do and we do need to keep up with music and shows too! How else would we know what was happening in the world?

  3. This is a wonderful exercise. I wonder if it would still work for me because I have trouble sorting through sounds. The loudest , closest one muddies all the others. Must try this anyway.

    A great post. We go on our merry way and forget to listen.

  4. Thanks, I certainly enjoy your thoughtful and often funny posts.

  5. Great post Rebecca. I often sit out in the woods by myself and let the world come alive. It is a form of meditation. Animals tend to freeze when someone walks by. As soon as you sit quietly for a few minutes they go about their business. As an aside, Peggy and I heard a buzz, buzz, buzz, clunk, clunk, clunk this morning and wondered, “What the heck?” It was a crow pecking on our skylight and talking to us. 🙂 –Curt

  6. I enjoy nature walks like that, too. Love them and they restore. I believe the crow was talking, I’m sure you listened to understand. My husband’s first conversation with birds was with magpies. He would go out the front door to get the morning paper and they would be grouped in a pine tree and laugh and heckle him the whole time and be quiet again when he went inside. Occasionally they swooped from other yards just to watch and tease him.

  7. ibdesignsusa says:

    I too enjoy the peace and quiet. When I go fishing I listen to the different sounds and enjoy listening to nature.

  8. Rainee says:

    A lovely post. I enjoy listening too – especially as a way to ground and calm myself. It is useful when I am trying to fall asleep – it gets me out of my own head to listen to my environment 🙂

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