Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tyranny of eyes

Most of us, on our walks about town or in the country, use just one sense - vision - to experience the world. We pretty much ignore the others. Touch: exciting when you're 17 and holding your honey's hand, not so exciting when the only thing you get to hold is the dog's leash. Taste: only if you can walk and chew gum at the same time. Smell: generally unnoticed unless it's something bad, except not, of course, if your route includes bakeries or banks of beach roses; however, watch the dog for a while to get a sense of what humans are missing in this department. Sound: completely unnoticed unless it's loud, no qualifiers.

Last week, as an experiment, I decided to devote one of the dog walks in Maine to sensing sound. Here are the sounds I heard:
  • skitter of an oak leaf across the road
  • dee-dee-dee of a chickadee
  • breeze in the trees
  • strong wind in the trees, which is different from a breeze because it echoes in your ears
  • crow caws
  • some kind of muffled motor (plane? car? log splitter?)
  • creak of a tree branch
  • ding of the cowbell wind chime at our neighbor's workshop
  • human voice at great distance
  • buzz of chainsaw somewhere
  • crack of ice in the swampy places
  • swish of surf
  • click of dog's toes on the tar
  • scuffle of shoes
  • snap of flags in the cemetery
  • slight snap of old knees
  • jingle of keys in pocket
  • several times? the wonderful silence of absolutely nothing
Nothing unusual here, nothing I have heard a hundred times before, ordinary stuff. Sounds are a little paltry compared to the rich assault of information and excitement and beauty and glory via the eyes. But by concentrating on those sounds, on an ordinary half-hour of my day, I knew that if suddenly I'm struck blind, say, by Callista's hair or Rick's piety, I could still walk these lanes, guided by a humbler sense. And then all the other senses too will kick in. I'll even treasure, for example, the dog's leash. So if you see me on Bay View Terrace, blindfolded, I'm just practicing: expanding my universe and escaping the tyranny of eyes.

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