I took one of those online hearing tests last night, the kind that test the upper Hz frequencies that only the young people can hear. I dropped out after 12,000Hz and tried not to be depressed by my 44-year-old inner ears. Middle age is here in my life, even if it doesn’t come in the form of a Gregorian Chant. (Although maybe it should.) In all fairness, it’s not really much of a loss, that 12,005Hz and higher range. I don’t need to hear squeaky buzzing, right? (Maybe, if Emile and Lucas decide to use them as ring tones on their someday cell phones.)
But there are some sounds I haven’t heard in a while due to lack of proximity, circumstance, or attrition. Here are a few of them:
Ocean foam—I didn’t make it to either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean this summer, so I haven’t been listening to waves. But more than the sound of furious crashing surf, I love the sound at the very end of the wave, when the bubbles aerated into the ocean water explode and leave the liquid, making a quiet hiss before the tide is drawn back into the sea. It’s a sound that requires one be right on the shoreline, that one be quiet, too, because any sound smothers the foam hiss. I can hear a glimpse of it if I put my ear next to a stream of seltzer water running over ice; there’s that same bubbling up and collapse. It’s like a sigh from water, and when I can listen to it and see the horizon of the ocean in front of me, I feel at peace.
Quiet cat footfalls—I love hearing Emile trotting down the stairs or along the hallway on the main floor of our house. It’s often closely followed by a question, a calling of “Mommy” or “Daddy,” or a declaration like, “My belly is hungry.” These sounds are terrific and often amusing. But I also adore less assertive steps, like my sweet first cat Willie used to produce when I’d come home from school. It was a thump as he jumped off the couch in the family room and a dot-dot-dot-dot as he’d bounce over to me, and by the end of his jaunt he would have assumed an air of nonchalance, as if we both didn’t already know that he was totally excited to get a pet and a scratch behind the ears.
Drip coffeemakers—Truth be told I don’t drink much coffee anymore, not like I drink espresso. I haven’t own a drop coffeemaker in going on twenty years. Nowadays I use a French press, which requires only a little patience and a careful amount of pressure to ease the filter to the bottom of the cup. I miss ye olde Mr. Coffee drip coffeemakers, with their sudden guttural cry when the water in the reservoir would run out into the pot. It was like an alarm without being an alarm, an audible signal of doneness that needed no extra mechanization. I admit it; I’m addicted to my lattes, and I enjoy the velvet mouthfeel of French press, but the 80s are alive and well in the drip coffeemaker.
Telephone bells—After drip coffee, you knew this one was coming. It harkens back to the 20th Century, of course, but it is nice to me that phone calls used to be such a clear sound all their own. My iPhone 5S sounds like a pin dropping—WTF kind of ring tone is that? And see that? Ring TONES? This was a bell. It was easily differentiated from say, a fire alarm bell, a class bell, the Liberty Bell, etc. They were loud as anything. I could hear the phone ringing in my room upstairs in the house I grew up in from the back yard (and of course I could burst through the house and get to it before anyone hung up, because that phone could ring forever, unattached as it was to an answering machine). If I decided to wait up for a phone call I considered it a win if I could lift the receiver before the hammer could really ring the bell, and even if it gave away to the person on the other line that I was strangely desperate to hear from them.
Eastern seaboard birds—I listened to the birds as I sat in our back yard this summer, and while they were nice, I still hear bird calls in my head that aren’t reaching my ears anymore. Like the Oriole, the Eastern bluebird, and the Mourning dove (even though they’re supposedly in Walla Walla’s region). There must be some unconscious connection to my childhood memory, but I consistently note the absences of familiar bird sounds, even if I am stunned to see so many hawks, eagles, and falcons in the skies here in southeast Washington State.
What are your favorite sounds you haven’t heard in a while? Did you have to think about it, or do you actively miss a particular sound?