I recently read the chapter The Listening Walk, in which the author cites Jonathan REE, a British freelance historian and philosopher, and his book I See A Voice, a philosophical history of deafness, language and the senses.
Ree tells us that listening is the homing device by which our soul directs us towards our sense of place. Nothing is more personal than how we listen.
Indeed, two people, in the same place, will not necessarily hear the same things or react to what they hear, in the same way.
On reading this, it struck me that one of the reasons I enjoy living in the country so much, is because I grew up hearing the same sounds, that I now hear around my home.
In this chapter Sarah recommends going for a listening walk or just pausing, where you are, and taking note of what you hear.
So, the next day I decided to make a mental note of everything I heard on my morning dog walk.
The first sound I noticed was the clang of a black bird pecking and dropping Tess’s food into her metal bowl, by the front door.
We generally set off between 8 and 8.30 am, cross the small place in front of the church, where a flock of sparrows and pigeons bicker and chatter in the church tower, where they roost.
We cross the road to a footpath, where the sound of our passing every day, excites a neighbour’s Jack Russell, who hurls himself against their aluminium door, like a hungry Sumo, with a resounding bang.
Then we take a narrow footpath, that passes between the walled gardens of the more opulent houses, but also abandoned plots, and here a multitude of different birds give voice.
The houses along the last part of the footpath, before I reach the fields, have dogs that are left alone all day. They bark excitedly as we pass. If the three mountain dogs are out, I have to cover my ears, as they sound off through the hedge only a hand’s breadth away.
As we emerged into the fields that morning, this was the view. It was misty to the east and a cuckoo was calling for a mate, “Cuckoo, cuckoo …”
I got a picture of this hare, before it bounced away.
I’ve seen three of four of them, a few times this last week, which is unusual and apparently a good omen.
Out here in the fields, the birds continue to sing, but there is a murder of crows that roost in the copses, and their harsh crowing drowns out the other birds’ song or perhaps frightens them away.
We pass by this ancient walled orchard on the left of this path and one of the abandoned gardens on the right, where I ‘gather’ flowers and foliage.
I can hear the distant whistle of the ‘once an hour’ Paris train that rushes through the valley below the fields.
An easy wind rustles the growing crops and sways the leaf heavy trees, sounding like gentle waves on sand.
And these irises swayed and rubbed each other, as we returned home through the village.
That morning I caught snatches of conversation from this garden, secreted behind ancient walls.
And back home in my own little courtyard, I had a little chat with this snail, which was advancing down the front door shutter towards these new tender leaves, while I took its picture.
It waved its antennae, as though my words were of interest.
You are really not at home in a place until you have made yourself familiar with how it sounds and resounds.
If you have the opportunity to walk without talking, then listen and take notes. Whether you are in the country, suburbia or a town, listening will ground you in the present moment and stop you from thinking about anything else.
Learning to quiet your mind is a habit worth developing.
Will you listen while you walk?
A little bird song for you, from the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB.