July 18, 2015
Growing up in Louisa – Listening!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
I remember once when I was in grade school and being a little more than usual obnoxious when Brother Perry, our principal, reminded me that God had given me two ears and one mouth so to listen more and talk less. Hmmmm, was he saying I was talking too much? I also heard some adults whispering about a certain lady who talked too much. They figured that if she was given a quota on speech, she’s soon run out of words. Knowing the lady in question, I waiting for the event that never happened, but she likely slowed down on the way to Pine Hill cemetery. So from the preacher’s perspective listening has greater value than talking. Being the grandfather of eleven, going on twelve, I wondered as I wrote this article how one might listen more.
Thinking back to that wonderful Garden Theater, I remember a scene in a western movie, I think it was a Lone Ranger film, where someone, maybe Tonto, put his ear to the ground to hear approaching horses who were still some distance away. Like magic he pronounced that there was six men in the posse. While I don’t understand that kind of ‘listening,’ or the degree of skill thus demonstrated, the practice of slowing down and listening hit a cord and has stuck with me. It ‘sounds’ like an oxymoron, but I learned to love the quiet because I could hear so much more! I remember using the technique of by putting my ear to ground. I often used that process on the steel rails of the train tracks to listen for an on-coming train, yet in the distance. It was important if you were walking the tracks to know if a train was near.
As I got older I learned in school that sound carried better on the iron rails than through the air and that it traveled very well through water. It may have been the same principal that made the string through an empty can work when we kids tried it. It didn’t for long distance, but then as I also learned later, there was nothing to amplify the sounds. In the end, having a way to amplify must be how a telephone or telegraph worked. Maybe I’m still naïve, but it makes sense the study would also lead to the phonograph. Of course, now days it is all about wireless.
Later in life I had a few occasions to try and locate water system problems. From that I discovered that the sound of water moving through the pipes was amplified when you put your ear next to a water line. In fact, I discovered that you could buy an old telephone receiver like the one that was attached to a wall phone and listen to hear the water flowing. While it didn’t pin-point the leak, it did tell me we had either a leak or a valve open. Following the pipe and discovering that the volume actually increased helped me find the pin-hole.
I remember other movies such as Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, where the K-9 perked up and began to growl in anticipation of the approach of a stranger. Well, it is common knowledge that dogs can hear things we cannot hear. For a time I was jealous of them. As an adult I see God’s wisdom in this. Frankly, I have lost some of my hearing, but still, I hear too much now. I see people running around with ear buds as if they had to have music to distract them from nature, or perhaps to chat with someone while on the trails. From television, to ear buds, and boom boxes, our hearing suffers.
I remember a story of a dog that helped the troops in the First World War by barking to tell them that the ‘Hun,’ or the dreaded mustard gas, was approaching the trench. This warning allowed men to don their gas masks, and grab their weapons. Even today our family dog is quick to hear noises that betray someone about to encroach our domain, never mind that it is sometimes me.
Most of us are blessed with good, or at least ‘normal’ hearing. We are used to having it and take it for granted every day of our lives. It saved the earliest settlers from Indian attacks, it announced the movement of troops, it told us a train was nearby, it signaled us a car was approaching, and announced that the volunteers were needed at the fire station.
We listen to the roar of the ocean, to all kinds of music, and to orators who lead us in our governments. The professors use sound to teach, and bands cause us to rise in salute. Sounds are everywhere. Imagine how empty the movie “Jurassic Park” would have been without the roar of the T-Rex, and the click of the Raptor’s claw.
Archeologists have found evidence going back thousands of years that man was searching for ways to enhance their hearing. The ear-trumpets used by older folks who had become ‘hard of hearing,’ have been found in numerous civilizations. Of course it was Thomas Alva Edison that invented several items to replicate sound, and to magnify sounds. Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone based on some of these principals. Just prior to that Samuel F. B. Morse invented the single wire telegraph that was based on some European models, and a code bearing his name. Those dots and dashes were heard up and down rail lines across America and eventually around the world.
I can’t fathom how Beethoven could write a symphony, but never hear a note of his masterpiece. We grew up knowing about Helen Keller, but since even our thoughts are expressed in words, then without hearing, or knowing the words, how can we understand?
Most of us don’t have hearing problems, or certainly nothing serious enough to visit a doctor. Our ears pop when we fly in a plane or drive up a big mountain, and they stop up when we have sinus or ear infections, or when we dive in a pool. Otherwise, we go about hardly noticing our ears are working. Neither do we give credit to this marvelous sense as we thrill to the majestic sounds dubbed into a movie to bring just this exact response. “Well done,” we say, but we don’t even think about how our minds interpreted the vibrations and tickled our emotions.
We are told when we lose a sense, the other senses are heightened. Lacking sight, such as Helen Keller, as well as hearing, I would think myself in a dark dungeon, lost to anything meaningful in life. Undoubtedly, she thought that too, early on until she was taught through touch to understand, to reason, and to finally communicate. For her and the world it was a wonderful break-through, for sure.
So slow down for a minute and listen to the world around you. Some are trying to reach out to you, others have created sounds for you to enjoy. Happily, some are wanting to hear what you have to say, too. Speak softly and let the tones of your voice be as music on the ears of those you love. They deserve to hear from you, and it may be time for you to listen to them.