From home to campus: a soundwalk

February 8, 2012

On my morning walk to school, the sounds are blending. I first notice the persistent peter-peter-peter of a bird, growing louder. This intermingles with the distant creaking of construction equipment, the delicate crunch of my footsteps on salt laid for a snow that never comes. I spot the bird in question: a tufted titmouse.

The bird also spots me and flies away. As I open myself to the sounds of the other birds, they prove to have been enveloping me all along. It is as if the attention to one is the key to unlocking the others. The swish of a winter coat of someone walking past me. A disjunction between what I see and what I hear, for most of what I hear I cannot see. The hammering of workers inside the apartment complex going up nearby, the caressing whoosh of cars along the nearing road. Footsteps as more students converge on this well-trodden path. Intimations of life and conversation. A voice over a PA system.

As I approach campus proper, the sounds become more industrial: metal on metal, rubber on asphalt, clap on building. I am struck by the lack of speech. I hear more the cars navigating through intersections. Nearly everyone I see says nothing. It is the beginning of the school day, and I wonder if people’s enthusiasm has yet to be sparked by the day’s learning or social interactions. I watch their comportment instead: the way they (and I) slump their heads forward to compensate for the weight of their backpacks. But then there are conversations, yet they are too distant to hear. I see instead the reactions of the bodies involved. Everyone’s energy speaks in a different way, from leisurely and uncaring to rushed and utterly invested in vanquishing missed opportunities.

A fundamental aspect of silence: not an absence of sound but the inability to hear what is seen. And as I enter the building that is my destination, I feel the quietude, for it is indeed something to be heard. -Tyran


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