The Sounds of Spring, with Soundtrack

It’s spring. There’s so much to hear! And it gets louder and louder over the coming months.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In early spring, the stream I walk along is full of ice-melt and cascades down the rocky gulley that is frozen in winter and dry in midsummer, roaring now like ocean waves.

The cardinals, with their winter “cheer, cheer, cheer,” are joined by early spring arrivals with their songs, from the dulcet coo-coo of a mourning dove to the shriek of a blue jay. In a few weeks the migratory birds heading north and those who settle here for the summer will bring new songs. If we’re lucky, the glorious rose-breasted grosbeak will stop by, its sound as beautiful as its appearance. A mocking bird can almost drive you crazy with its seemingly endless serenade. The rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers varies by their size and the wood they’re tapping.

Later in the season, insects provide a steady soundtrack – katydids, the whine of mosquitoes, the buzzing of bees, cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers, sometimes loud enough to drown out bird song. On late summer afternoons, before the riotous insect noise starts, you can hear the wings of hummingbirds.

The mammals are noisy too. The noisiest is the common gray squirrel, which has an impressive vocabulary, both oral and signed: “kuks, quaas, moans, twitches, and flags among them,” as an article in Wired (soundtrack included) called them.

Even the frogs are noisy. One of the loudest noises in early spring are the peepers. They’re not baby frogs, as you might think from their high pitch, but robust male tree frogs trying to allure potential mates.

I was prompted to think about the how noise heralds spring after a long, mostly silent icy winter by a lovely new book by biologist David George Haskell: “Sounds Wild and Unbroken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction.”

Haskell writes in an early chapter, “Sensory Bargains and Biases,” about his own progressive hearing loss. But he quickly moves on to the sounds of his title: the sounds we hear, the sounds we are endangering (by environmental carelessness), and the sounds we don’t hear: “We are … surrounded by sounds inaccessible to our unaided ears, each one tuned to its environment. Our senses live confined in a small part of the whole.” For those with hearing loss, it’s sometimes an even smaller part.

Another new book on the wonders and threats to nature is “The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans,” by Cynthia Barnett. It’s more a natural history of seashells and what we can learn from them than a book about sound. But one anecdote corrects some popular myths about conch shells. Contrary to the beliefs of wishful shell collectors, they neither reflect the sound of the ocean where they originated nor foretell storms; nor do they magnify the sound of our own blood. What spiral conch, welk and India’s sacred chanc shells do instead is act as perfect resonating chambers, amplifying ambient noise.

A London design studio had the brilliant idea to use bird song as a way to raise consciousness about hearing loss. Their app called “Hearing Bird Song” is an immersive experience that allows you to screen your own hearing. Users listen to recorded bird calls. Based on how well they hear them, by the app’s measures, they may find that they need to have their hearing checked more formally. Here’s an article on the app from Hearing Health and Technology Matters.

David Haskell has made a soundtrack to accompany his book. You can find it here. Even if you don’t hear well, you can adjust the volume. There are 22 tracks, from all over the world. Some are astonishing, and all are fun to listen to. “Five White Crowned Sparrows” (11 seconds) reminded me of one of my early hearing experiences after getting a cochlear implant in 2009. I had a hard time initially adjusting to the implant but one early spring day I was walking in Riverside Park in New York when I heard a cacophony coming from a nearby bush. It was full of sparrows, making a spectacular clamor.

Put in your hearing aids and enjoy the sounds of spring.

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For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.

8 thoughts on “The Sounds of Spring, with Soundtrack

  1. Thank you, Katherine, for reminding us of all the joyous sounds of spring. I look forward to hearing the sounds you describe with my cochlear implant. We are fortunate to have this kind of technology that allows us to enjoy nature. I also look forward to be reading the books you recommend. I’ve been a seashell collector all my life. They all wondrous gems of nature.

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  2. Your words are beautiful, Katherine, thank you. You made me appreciate my CI more because it can pick up singing birds quite well. My hearing aid, in my other ear, cannot do this. So now I have to ask myself: Why not get a CI for that ear, too? Maybe I hold back because that ear was my “better” ear when I was learning to speak while learning to lipread, too. I’m afraid I will lose it irreparably, even though it doesn’t hear well anymore. Also, my CI surgery was not pleasant at all. So what should I do? Do you have any advice for me? I will be 80 this year.

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    • Thank you for the nice compliment.
      I have a cochear implant in my left ear and although I qualify for one in my right I still use a hearing aid.
      Around the time I was about to get a second c.i. my audiologist suggested trying a different brand of hearing aid. I now have an Oticon (4-5 years old). I don’t really hear “better” with it, as measured by speech recognition tests, but I feel like I do and that’s what counts. The c.i. and h.a. complement each other, with each stronger in some frequencies than the other.
      I’m not sure how long ago you had c.i. surgery but it is generally pretty easy for most these days. If you were not at our HLAA-NYC chapter meeting on Tuesday 4/5, watch the recorded Zoom when we post it in a couple of weeks on our website, hearinglossnyc.org. Lots of good information from two c.i. surgeons and two c.i. audiologists.

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      • My CI surgery 5-yr anniversary will be in July 2022. I understand that I will be eligible for a processor upgrade then. I missed the HLAA-NYC chapter meeting but will definitely look for the recorded Zoom in a few weeks. BTW, I live in Arlington, VA, and listened to you at one of D.C.’s chapter meetings. You have done a wonderful job of promoting awareness of options for addressing hearing loss. Keep up the good work. Stay safe.

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      • Thank you! I got an upgrade on my AB processor last year. It was definitely an improvement in terms of comfort — it’s slightly smaller and fits better behind my ear — and I think in sound quality. I bought a clip-on mic as an accessory and use it a lot. I opted for the paired Phonak Link hearing aid. Good that it gives me streaming in both ears. But I prefer the sound of my old Oticon so mostly wear that. I remember that DC talk. I was very impressed by the library — great meeting space! And by the turnout and questions.

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  3. I have no word recognition in my left ear, but I recently told my audiologist I still like to wear my hearing aid because I can hear the birds sing and it brings me joy!

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    • I’m not sure which ear I hear the birds with — the one with a c.i. or the one with the hearing aid. After 12 1/2 years with the c.i., the sounds meld in my head and I’m not sure exactly which ear is picking up the sound.

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