Do you hear that? Make a mental list of all the sounds you are hearing right now, right where you are.
As a reader of Light & Landscape, I assume you love the outdoors whether you take a camera with you or not. Think about your favorite sounds out in nature. Maybe it’s the rustling of the leaves as the wind blows through them. Perhaps it’s the sound of frogs as the sun rises and sets each morning and evening. Even the lone howl of a wolf, if you’ve been fortunate to hear one, can be both thrilling and unnerving.
Now, imagine you can no longer hear them. All the noises you’ve taken for granted have faded away; all the sounds you’ve come to love are no longer heard. The experiences and feelings that our brain fosters when hearing certain sounds no longer emerge. You may have read, in some variation, how nature and its symphony of instruments can be restorative to the soul. It all has little meaning for me.
At eighteen months of age, I contracted spinal meningitis during a time when it was a killer…literally! By the grace of God, I’m alive today with a severe hearing loss. To give you an idea of the extent of my hearing loss, think of a piano. If you know where middle C is, go both directions from middle C four notes. Anything more and my hearing rapidly drops off the charts!
With my hearing basically useless as a sensory tool, growing up as a child had its challenges; it still has its challenges today as an adult. Sight is the primary way I navigate the highs and lows of life. As a child, I enjoyed taking snapshots on instamatic cameras with those square flashes that gave you just four usages. My love of photography really bloomed, though, when I lived in Sacramento from 2011 to 2015. My work required being on the road a lot. I traveled through the Shasta Trinity National Forest on my way to the northernmost regions of California, and the Sierras on my way to Nevada. I always had my camera with me on those work trips.
When I’m out in nature, my eyes have become my “ears”. Silence pervades my environment, but scenery becomes my “sound”.
I have sat along the shores of Lake Superior from the setting of the sun, through the night and even into the dawning of a new day. That has been and continues to be, an “orchestra” for my eyes. The twinkling of the stars on a winter’s night, the grandeur of the Milky Way’s galactic core, the thick shrouding of the lake smoke, the almost perpetual rhythm of wave after wave hitting the shoreline—they all share their “sound” with me visually.
While the north shore holds a treasure chest full of jewels, it is no less captivating exploring the visual music of other locations. Walking through woodlands on a friend’s farm, one can experience the wonderful juxtaposition of light and shadow at play, almost like a musical duet. Back road trips can also be a smorgasbord of discoveries. Rusty relics adorned in rust and lichen dot the landscape, making me think of wistful, almost forlorn melodies in the midst of a jaunty whistle. Even parks emanate a domesticated beauty that is no less satisfying to see and hear.
One park in particular that I enjoy is Shadow Falls Park in St. Paul. Though it’s built-in an urban center, within a few steps, I’m transported into a landscape that feels far outside of the city. Here, a dainty waterfall plays its gentle melody as it cascades over a bluff on its way to the Mississippi River. In the waning moments of sunset, it is a beautiful sight to behold.
In fact, when you aren’t distracted by the sounds around you, and you are looking for beauty, you can find it almost anywhere. I believe there can be a larger scene and then there can be a scene within the larger scene. Sometimes there can be several scenes within a scene as one continues to look ever deeper. Often, that’s where you find striking minimalist images.
Research shows that there is a direct correlation between natural soundscapes and what is called a positive affect. For many people, the sounds of nature are relaxing and restorative. As someone with hearing loss, though, I’ve learned to appreciate the world in other ways. And while I may not hear much, I don’t feel like I am missing anything. How can I miss something that I have never experienced? Instead of worrying about what’s absent, I choose to focus on the things I can enjoy - the “visual sounds” of the landscapes all around us!