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July 14, 2010

Posts from Felix are always thought-provoking. She does what all artists should do: she changes your perspective. She writes about listening and you end up seeing things differently. Or to be more accurate, you end up experiencing things in a new way.

This weekend I had the chance to retread a favourite walk from Edale, up Kinder Scout and back down Jacob’s Ladder. I could have just revelled in the magnificent, familiar views but having been fascinated by Felix’s posts about her soundwalk,  I decided instead to try and listen better.

Edale from Kinder Scout

I can’t begin to write about this like Felix does, but I’m thinking of my walk as a first step towards experiencing the environment more fully. What I noticed immediately was how many different sounds are made by water.

This fall, for example, is  smaller than it appears from the picture and was making a roaring noise far louder than I would have expected. On the other hand, Crowden Beck, which is considerably bigger, was trickling and burbling much more quietly.

What I found next was that thinking about sounds set my brain off on a track it would never have started otherwise. I remembered how in the Bible the sound of God’s voice is often described as ‘the sound of many waters’ and wondered what those ancient writers were trying to convey: noise, certainly; something awe inspiring and terrible in its beauty.  That led me on to thinking of how often water imagery is used to describe spiritual states, with the Psalmist crying out to God: ‘My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ (Psalm 63:1)

At the weekend we were still in the middle of a heatwave here, and even in this well-watered corner of the country there was evidence of parched earth. These 7,000 year old peat bogs can be like thick soup in winter, but on my walk they were cracked and dusty. Now it has been raining solidly for two days and I would like to go back  and see how the rain has swelled them, and to dwell on other biblical imagery of how God can soak and refresh the dry parts of our lives with his spirit.

He turned the desert into pools of water

and the parched ground into flowing springs

Psalm 107:35

(And although the rhythmic thud of my boots was a comforting sound on this dry walk, I’d definitely enjoy the squelch you get when you haul your foot out of a bog – although it takes skill to do that without getting your socks wet.)

One thing I realised on this walk was that it takes practice to listen. I found I couldn’t maintain it for long. This was  partly due to the extraordinary rock formations that scatter the summit of Kinder Scout and really compel the eyes.

Formed over millennia from the gritstone that characterises the Dark Peak, they are known, happily, as  The Woolpacks.

But mostly I think I found it hard to maintain a listening attitude because I am not used to it. As Felix has pointed out, our culture tends to privilege what we can see and ironically that means we can miss out on a huge amount. I’m looking forward to more walks and to learning to listen better.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2010 5:54 pm

    Fantastic idea! I’ll try and listen more tomorrow.

  2. July 15, 2010 8:45 am

    What a beautiful post!
    I feel honoured to be referenced here like this and it is amazing to read about your experiences of deliberate, active listening.
    It is very difficult to stay tuned into sounds and I am often distracted, BUT
    I find writing about sounds, focussing on sounds, and recording/listening to sounds really helps me to cultivate a greater appreciation for the sounds that are all around us.
    What I love about listening is how tuning into the sounds – as you have here in your walk, and again in your post – can tell us so much about atmosphere, temperature, terrain etc. I love the bog descriptions and your Biblical quotes are great. I am always interested by how sound is used in language to evoke certain elemental forces…

  3. July 15, 2010 3:55 pm

    Love this post. Ears now switched on.

  4. July 28, 2010 9:38 pm

    Lovely post and photos, Joanna. Hats off (woolly ones or others) to Felix for her inspiration. Since I have been reading her blog I have become much more conscious of sounds, or not.

    Have you tried the Book of Silence? Food for thought.


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