Saturday, September 14, 2013

And Summer Rolls to an End...

Well, lazy summer has drifted by, bringing with it a new set of experiences. When I make myself do it, I find that I can listen to and understand the things my family say to me around the house. I'm pretty sure I've noticed a couple of new sounds this summer.

While camping in Utah over the last week and a half, I felt struck by the sheer silence of the backcountry wilderness. Sounds like my own breathing, my own footfalls, stood out to me more than ever before. Life seemed to stand out starker than ever in the open skies and cliffs of Utah, and so did its sensory impressions: sound, sight, certain slants of light and certain textures across the earth and the mountains. I thought I knew silence, and I still do, but just like everyone else I've been lulled into the rhythms of constant surround sound. When a different pattern emerges, I stop and listen. And how odd it was, I must admit, to encounter silence in a world of sound. Silence belongs to my own mind, to the smooth glidings of my thought when my CI and hearing aid are off; I am not used to it belonging to the outside world as well. Every sound, then, took on its own character and richness out in the backcountry.

Also on the aforementioned camping trip, I noticed myself listening to and responding to unexpected streams of speech. My dad, hiking behind me on the trail, would say something, and oftentimes I'd turn and ask what it was. Oftentimes I realized I did this out of habit. If I'd only given myself time to process and think about it, I would have understood what he said (and often did understand anyway, even if after he'd started to repeat it). Other times, I held back from this habit and - lo, there it was: "This sky is beautiful." Yes, I would agree, without turning around, it is.

One day on this camping trip, we hiked out to one of the arches in Arches National Park in Utah, where a large swarm of visitors had settled to gape and take photographs. The hikers would venture forth, one by one or group by group, to take photos under the huge arch with the landscape sprawling out beyond. Much camera-swapping took place; many strangers obliged to take other strangers' photographs, as people will in those sorts of places. At one point, I found myself standing on the verge of the flurry, surveying the clouds and the sky, and then I heard a voice, quite unexpected, speaking to my left. "Will you take our picture, please?" it asked. I heard, and I understood. "Sure," I said, before turning around, and then glanced over to see a pair of young women, probably about my age, holding an iPhone out to me. Whoa. I had just acted and responded like a hearing person would have. And it had come completely naturally.

Such moments sneak up on me by surprise, time after time. Also sneaking up on me is the end of the summer and my impending departure for Oxford. I had the opportunity to visit the UK earlier this summer, to get disability accommodations in order for Oxford and to meet some of the university and Rhodes administrators I will be working with over the upcoming two years. Something was different then; I noticed that, as opposed to my quarter abroad at Oxford three years ago, my ears were attuned and listening to the British accents in a way they hadn't before. I could feel my brain working out various people's cadences, as it might a puzzle, and sorting out, with a slight delay, what they had actually said. And listening made deciphering those accents easier this time, even as I was more aware of the auditory richness involved in such a challenge. (How good it felt to get back to talking with Americans! Even if some of the British people I met were truly lovely.) I have no doubt that the challenge will continue as I arrive in Oxford in a few weeks' time. But bring it on. Rambling post or no, let the experiences continue to accumulate!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, two subjects, that are dear to my heart. The first is the diversity of accents in the UK. Having lived in the UK and worked for a British company, I have always found the diversity of accents fascinating since they represent both geography and social status. You will be richly rewarded to explore these, even though they will certainly be a challenge.

    If you are familiar with the Redwall series, it adds to the reading experience to "hear" the accents of the characters and brings a constant smile to see these applied to the animals. If you haven't read them yet, it should be required as a part of your study of contemporary literature!

    Somewhat related to this and your background in New Mexico is that there is some interesting research there on Spanish of the 1500's which has been preserved in some small Spanish communities in the state. There is a similar preservation of 14th Century English in some coastal communities in the Delmarva Peninsula.If you have a chance, I think you would find it fun to spend some time in Cornwall at the "local" and then visit a place such as Chincoteague, VA at the time of the Pony Roundup which will reward your equine interests as well. :>)

    The other area of this post that is interesting is that I have been thinking about and discussing the design of hearing aids apropos of your back country trip to Utah.

    A major objective for a hearing aid is speech discrimination and the elimination of "noise." But "noise" is like weeds, plants that you don't want, but still plants and in many environments, plants that are vital to other life.

    While the back country is devoid of urban sounds, it isn't really a silent environment. There are the sounds of wind blowing. Sounds of water in a creek or the rain falling through the leaves of the trees.. There are sounds of all the animal life: birds, crickets, and little creatures scurrying through the underbrush. These all add to the richness of these environments just as being able to see them does.

    So it seems that hearing aids need at least two modes: speech discrimination and appreciation of the sounds of the environment. Even in an urban context this makes sense. If I'm walking down the streets of San Francisco and not talking with someone, my hearing aid ought to be able to provide me with the sounds of someone approaching on the sidewalk on a bike and about to run me over rather than filter that out as "noise."

    Enjoy Oxford and learning about all the different shades of grey that the English weather presents.