Thursday, August 8, 2013

Music To My Ears

It is raining.

After a pretty wet June and early July, the skies turned dry. Oh, the temperatures stayed pleasantly cool for the most part, but it was dry, dry, dry. As I sit here writing this, we are on the backside of a good, solid, drenching rain.

If you had come upon me in my kitchen five minutes ago, you would have seen me standing at the open casement windows, facing the rain, my hands cupped behind my ears.

There's a reason for that.

Like many aging Boomers, I am showing some hearing loss. Mine was accelerated a few years ago by a head cold that left me temporarily deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. My hearing slowly came back in both ears, but it was forever changed. I hear endless white noise, just enough to wash out the softer sounds in the world. It is impossible for me to follow a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Add the normal loss that comes with age, and you get the picture.

I recently read Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise by David Rothenberg. Close on the heels of that, I read several chunks of The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause. (Bernie Krause and Warren are discussing a possible Symphony project, so the book is presently on the coffee table. I needed something to read.) Krause wrote about making faux leopard ears out of paper, clipping them to his glasses, and then listening. "The difference between what I heard with my ears alone and with the faux cat's ears was impressive," Krause said.

Rothenberg wrote about cicadas, katydids, crickets, and the other rhythm makers of the insect world. Around here, the cicadas (just the annual ones, not the periodic ones) started up in early June and the katydids arrived in mid-July. The former dominates the afternoons, especially the lazy, sultry ones; the latter rules the night. For me, they are an irreplaceable sound of summer.

A few nights ago, when the katydids were good and loud in the trees, I thought about Krause's cat ears. I cupped my hands behind my own ears to increase the gathering range of the pinna (the part of the ear outside the head).

I was staggered by the roar of the night.

Not only did the sound of the katydids increase several times over, but the first time in forever (Since my childhood? My young adult years?), I heard the whole noisy chorus of insects underneath the katydids. I tried to describe it to Warren, finally hitting upon "it sounds like a coursing river of bugs out there."

And it did.

Just now, listening to the rain with my improved range, I had a similar revelation. I heard the rain, yes, but this was rain amplified, rain magnified. This was rain with the volume dial cranked up. This was rain with a hundred nuances of splash.

It was RAIN, not just rain. Just as the other night it was BUGS and not just bugs.

I'm already pretty far up in the geek stratosphere in some circles. Walking around town with my hands cupped behind my ears should propel me even higher.

And I can just see myself questioning that future audiologist. "Will this hearing aid  give me the full bug chorus on a hot summer night? Will they enable me to hear a million raindrops hit the deck? Because if it can't, I have (dramatic pause) these!" And putting my hands behind my ears, I will walk back into the world.


see you there! said...

Brilliant! The very next time it rains here I will have my hands behind my ears. I might even make some little leopard ears to attach to my glasses, who knows?

Sue said...

You can actually buy a set of "earglasses" - which are a plastic version of your cupped hands (google the term). I saw this product many years ago and wasn't sure if it was a real audio aid or a joke gift. But they do work!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could design a hat which artfully pushes your ears forward to hear better. The locusts are in full force in our neighborhood.