I have a favorite bike route. It’s about ten miles round trip, with two thirds of it along Mill Creek to Rooks Park and back. The rest is on city streets through neighborhoods and past schools. Most of the walkers, skate boarders, runners, and bikers I’ve seen this summer have been wearing earphones, not hearing anything that doesn’t come through them. Some walkers not only wear earphones, but are glued to their smart phones, no doubt in pursuit of you know what, and utterly oblivious to anything else.
Behold, says the nature guide, here is an example of an ambulatory life-form, unrelated to others in our area, and of unknown origin. We’ve been observing it for some time now, and while it does move, it does not appear to be aware of its surroundings, or participate in the life of other flora and fauna. We think it’s sensate, and we’ve tried to make contact. With enough stimulation it appears to awaken to our presence for a brief moment, usually with an irritated look of alarm, but it’s a momentary thing. It quickly returns to a strange, almost catatonic state, except that it moves, albeit slowly. Some researchers wonder if it might be related to the giant sloth, long thought to be extinct. We’re looking into it. If it is a form of homo sapiens, it is a very pokey man.
But I digress. I don’t want to obsess about alien lifeforms of the extreme variety; I am more interested in ordinary folks who have chosen to shut out the sound of the world about them. What are they listening to? I imagine it’s to their favorite play list or Pandora station. I like listening to music too. We have season tickets to the Symphony and Chamber Music Festival. The Walla Walla University Christmas concert is a must. My car radio gravitates toward jazz, classical, a little country, and sometimes a pop station. All my favorite music is piped into my ears at doctor and dentist visits, or on the treadmill at the Y. Music is good for the soul.
But shutting out the world of sounds while walking or biking doesn’t make sense to me. There is so much to hear, as there is to be seen. Along the creek there are the sounds of rushing water, honking geese and quacking ducks. Children splash in the shallows. Birds of every kind are in the trees. Critters scurry out of the way. Small planes land and take off from the local airport not far away. The wind in the trees makes gentle music of its own kind. Frogs sometimes sing in counterpoint. Taking a break to sit on a bench, the subtle buzz of flying insects makes itself known. There is a lot to hear that adds depth and color to what can be seen.
Leaving the creekside trail behind, taking to the city streets, listening for the the traffic has always seemed like a good idea. More interesting are the sounds of children playing, squirrels clucking displeasure, dogs barking, people talking, machines digging, builders pounding, and the silent words of my own thinking about it all. Shutting out the sounds of the world by drowning them through earphones seems to me like deliberately bleeding the color of life into a washed out shadow of vitality. What a waste, and to do it on purpose? I don’t get it. Maybe you get it, and will explain it to me.