When You Can’t Hear Nature’s Sounds

Have you ever gone on a walk and wondered what, because of your hearing loss, you are not hearing? Or you hear sounds but you’re not sure what you’re hearing, so you ask the person you’re hiking with – what’s that?

Now, ‘that’ could be one of several sounds a hearing person can hear at that moment, so you might be asked to describe what ‘that’ sounds like to you. This is the hard part for me, because I can’t always be sure the words I choose will adequately convey the sound. But I try. I hear a lot of “thwap-thwap-chippuh-chippuh-thwap” sounds. But if I replicate these speech bits to the Hearing Husband, it might not help him, because the actual sound contains higher frequencies than I can hear. So, he might not realize that what he hears as “tweety-tweet-chittery-tweet” has the same source as my series of chippuh-thwaps.

I bet you thought it was birds, hey? Well, it could be birds or it could be squirrels or some other small animal in the underbrush. If your hiking partner can identify the sound – fabulous! If you’re on your own and you can’t figure it out – no problem! Because, does it really matter what’s making the sounds? It would be nice, of course, but why make yourself nuts over something you simply cannot do?

Regardless of how spectacular the technology we use, no method currently exists that will restore our hearing to its once-stellar organic state. Many people with hearing loss can get close, or even very close, but the rest of us will just not hear some sounds or will hear them very differently. We may be unable to identify them or will have no clue what direction they are coming from. For now, that’s the way it is.

So, if the sense-scape of a walk is not as complete as someone who hears organically – that is, without any effort needed to hear, identify, or locate the sounds – that shouldn’t affect our pleasure or joy. When we can’t hear perfectly (or anything approaching perfectly) in nature, we can fill up on our other senses.

If you have the sense of vision, soak in the sunlight or the grey of a cloudy day and the thousand shades of green around you.

If you have the sense of smell, breathe deeply of the earth and the greenery and wildflowers.

If you have the sense of touch, place your hands on the corrugated bark of a tree. Put your thumb and forefinger on either side of a leaf. Is it smooth or rough?

I don’t worry about trying to make sense of sounds and I don’t grieve for what I can’t hear on this walk, today. I might not be able to tell on which tree Woody Woodpecker is hammering away for its lunch, but I can hear him, one of the few birds I can identify by sound. And I love hearing my footfalls on the different trail surfaces – compact earth, mulch, stones. And because I always wear a hiking hat to protect my cochlear implant sound processor, raindrops on my hat are loud!

I hear what I hear. I don’t hear what I can’t. I accept that. There’s too much stress in our lives these days and nature is a refuge for our sanity. We use whatever gifts we have to enjoy it.  

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


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