Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Sounding" Off

When I walk in the morning, I usually have my cheap little MP3 player plugged into my ears. I haven't yet figured out how to get any of my music on it (haven't really tried very hard), so I listen to National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Except for the other morning, when I was partway along my merry way and the battery gave up the ghost. Instead of returning home, I just pocketed the player and tried to concentrate on what I heard. Most of these sounds I hear despite the earphones, but there were some subtle ones that surprised me.

On this particular Saturday, emergency sirens were in full voice, over somewhere on the west side of town. I heard the deeper tones of firetrucks and the higher, more insistent wailing of police vehicles. I'm sure the people in that neighborhood appreciated the early wake up call, but I haven't yet heard what precipitated the cacophony of horns and sirens.

The emergency sirens were my aural accompaniment on the outward leg of my trip. On the way back, as I hiked along the river dike, I heard the thud-thud-thud of a helicopter coming in from the east. It was a smaller chopper, maybe a hospital craft, but I couldn't tell for sure. I've never flown in a helicopter, and the way their rotors batter the air into submission makes me wonder if I ever really want to! It just doesn't seem like a very efficient way of moving through space, though it has worked well for decades. The chopper's sound soon faded out as it moved further west, toward downtown, maybe, or the airport.

The birds are always up, greeting the sunrise with their varied songs. Cardinals' songs are among my favorite--maybe because they are one of about three birds' songs I can reliably recognize! And these treetop singers are often easy to spot, with their penchant for sitting where their distinctive wedge shape is outlined against the sky. Robins also contribute their springy trills from the ground, from trees, and from convenient fence posts. This morning, there was a pair of meadowlarks exchanging their up-and-down songs from the edge of the unharvested wheatfield down along the river. Of course, the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs, the sparrows and wrens that even experts have trouble distinguishing) are always singing, too, though they blend in so well with the trees and grass that the songs seem to be coming from small, feathered ghosts.

Since I walk where others run, sometimes I will hear the thwup-thwup of running shoes on the compacted trail surface, coming up behind me. This is usually accompanied by the huffing and puffing breath of the person wearing the shoes as he or she plods past me. Or there might be the whirr of bicycle tires, which approach much more quickly, sometimes startling me if I'm caught up in listening to the news. When I ride along the trail, I've made it a habit to call out, "Passing on your left," so as not to startle walkers. I've had dogs jump in front of my wheels because they didn't realize someone was behind them, so we might call my warning an accident avoidance tactic.

I'm not all silence and stealth personally, either. My shoes add their own rhythm to the sounds of the morning, a sort of scrunch-scrunch on the graveled portions of the trail, and that same thwup-thwup on the short concrete section, or on the sidewalks at the start of my walk. And even though I'm not running, I work at walking fast enough to get a good huffing and puffing going myself, though quieter than most runners.

The sidewalks take me past the most annoying sound--barking dogs. Oddly enough, very few of the dogs that are being walked by their owners ever bark. They look at me curiously, make sure I'm no threat, then resume whatever it is dogs do--usually sniffing for signs of other dogs, I think! But those dogs hidden behind the tall wooden fences at two houses in particular are always ready to bark out a warning that there's a stranger near. I don't care if their yapping wakes up their owners, because that's a price dog owners accept when they keep dogs in their yards. But I'm always silently apologetic to any neighbors who may also toss and turn restlessly in their last minutes of rest, cursing whoever or whatever caused those dogs to sound off yet again.

Walking along the dike, I pass under the Crawford Street bridge, which is always busy with traffic, even early on Saturday morning. The cars zip over my head with a heavy whoosh, accompanied by a little thump as they cross the expansion joints at either end of the bridge. It's a little unsettling to think of thousands of pounds of automobile zooming just 15 feet or so above me. And maybe a bit exhilirating, too, as I enjoy the fact that I have time for a walk, while the drivers up there may be headed for a hectic day of chauffering kids around, braving shopping crowds, or even Saturday work. There are definite advantages to a teacher's summer schedule!


  1. I love this. What a great idea to do a description of the senses in regards to your walks. The part about the dogs made me smile. :)

  2. Thanks for the comment and compliments, Gabi!