Friday, November 24, 2017

Henderson: An ear's guide to life, unplugged


I'm not sure when headphones became almost a mandatory part of everyday life.

I mean, back in the day we only used headphones to experience Pink Floyd albums while reclined in solitude on bean bag chairs in a lowly lit room. Ripple wine, optional.

Now we use headphones (or ear buds) for everything. Most people can't go for their morning walk or run without plugging to their "inspirational" music. We listen to books through headphones. My pastor has recommended using headphones and Bible apps that will read the Holy Scripture to the listener while they work out at the gym.

I have my own playlists — classic rock, mixed with some Adele, Alison Krauss, Casting Crowns, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Hamilton soundtrack. I'm all over the board.

Tuning in can be risky, though.

True story: I almost got smashed by a car backing out of a driveway on one of my morning jaunts through the neighborhood. Yes, I had headphones tuned to AC/DC or something like that. I failed to hear the car as it began to back up and the driver didn't see me.

I was properly chastised for that by Bill Ward, who used to be a fine newspaper writer and now serves as spokesman/flack for Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez. He said never to wear headphones on a run or walk through a busy neighborhood.

Those are wise words that I have continued to ignore. But after I recently wrote a story about wilderness camps, maybe it was time to rethink the whole headphone thing.

Being unplugged is part of the deal at that camp in the north Georgia mountains. People shared stories of heightened spiritual feelings while hearing the sounds of nature — the wind shifting the limbs of giant trees, the differing calls from creatures of the forest, or the distant rumble of an approaching storm.

So, I tried it.

It was a little weird at first, to be honest.

I do about an hour-long brisk walk most mornings. The music helps me drown out protests from the inner lazy slug that is trying to remind I'd be a lot more comfortable at home in air conditioning.

The first thing I noticed was the hum of cars as they went up and down a busy street adjacent to my neighborhood. We live near a couple of big lakes and the water attracts a lot of ducks. I have seen them many times but on that morning I heard them. Very noisy. Pretty cool.

Do you know rabbits can make a sound as they rush off through tall grass and into a wooded conservation preserve? It's kind of a quiet rustling as they duck into the brush.

I'm not an expert on birds but I started noticing that their sounds are distinct.

Later at my gym, I gulped hard and went unplugged, prepared to hear the sound oxygen makes when being exhaled from my lungs. Understand that if they're working out by themselves, almost everyone at the gym uses ear buds or some other kind of sound-delivering device.

I've been going to this gym for several years but never noticed how the piped-in music competes with the clank of weights as they return to their rack. It's almost rhythmic.

There was a basketball game going on in the gym there. I had forgotten how the squeak of sneakers sounds against the floor, or the rhythmic cadence of a bouncing basketball.

There is a whole world of sound out there just waiting to be heard. Amazingly enough, the time actually seemed to go by faster without the distraction of a soundtrack. I can't say I'm a total convert, but it was an ear-opening experience.


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