An Altogether Different Sensory Experience

I was sitting on our patio overlooking the ocean catching up on the news with a cup of coffee this morning and noticed a seagull tooling around overhead. This is part of my daily routine. The owls are just ending their shifts. All of the neighborhood dogs are barking at people walking to work. Roosters have been doing their thing since about 3:00 and will be at it most of the day. My neighbor’s singing is regularly drowned out by squeaky suspensions due to the Baja dust and washed-out roads. Hearing the difference between a two-stroke and four-stroke dirt bike on the main road followed by what was obviously a four-wheeler. Because Baja. All of this suddenly made me wonder when I last heard the sound of an airplane or helicopter. It must have been the last time we were in Cabo.

When I lived in Wichita in the mid-1990s, telephone conversations were constantly interrupted by jets taking off at McConnell AFB. My ex-husband had to live within so many minutes of the flight line so there was no escaping it. I remember walking through the parking lot at the Towne East mall and it felt like an earthquake when a B-1B was using burners to get off the ground. It seemed to set off every car alarm within a five-mile radius.

People who live near Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson have the nerve to complain about the relatively mild sounds of A-10 traffic while living in pre and post-war housing built for service members. Wait until the F-35s come to town. Have a defibrillator handy because they will stop your heart. My house in the suburbs was adjacent to the drug and people smuggling superhighway so it was all Blackhawks all the time. Those neighbors were largely military and law enforcement, young enough to be oblivious to how obnoxious a loud engine is in the middle of the night. I often contemplated the various uses for piano wire. I also considered leaving notes on teenagers’ cars letting them know YouTube has videos to solve the trunk rattle caused by their substandard subwoofer configurations. I feel like we had higher bass standards back when N2deep released Back to the Hotel in 1992. I’m more of a Too Short fan but now I’m really showing my age.

Rural Kansas has the sounds (and smells) of farming and ranching. Grain elevators unloading trucks during harvest. Crop dusters spraying fields. Trains blocking the highway next to Cargill for half an hour attaching cars with wheels screeching unmercifully. Dogs howling along with tornado sirens being tested every Wednesday at noon. The Boise foothills vibrate with rattlesnakes in the spring. I can still hear the way my heels clicked on the lobby floor of the Boise Cascade headquarters building. And the owl trapped in my barn frantically trying to escape through an open stall door.

I’ve always been intensely sensitive to sounds and my general environment, to the consternation of everyone around me. People generally think I’m making it up but hyperacusis is an actual thing. Mindful meditation is easy for me because I naturally notice individual sounds and textures wherever I happen to be. Sensory overload is a serious and recurring problem which often results in panic attacks. Crowded cities prevent me from separating and categorizing everything I’m experiencing. It happens too quickly and too constantly for my brain to process it all. Every day is like trying to have a conversation in a crowded bar with a live band. I wish I could be less observant. I apparently missed my calling as a first-rate sonar operator.

The porch is my favorite spot at our house. A nearly constant ocean breeze flows through the arches to create a perfect palm frond sound barrier between my ears and the outside world. The neighbor’s music also helps. But then the psychotic hound rakes her bear claws across the screen door demanding to be let inside. Meditation time is over.

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