[Tweeters] Sound Waves

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sun Sep 29 14:15:13 PDT 2013

After writing about ripple effects, focusing mostly on water and light, I got to thinking about sound.

Yup, you've got your water waves, light waves, shock waves (like when Mt. Saint Helens blew all those trees down), also sound waves. And more.

Bringing up sound experiences, I remember one from a few years ago that I really like. I was hiking the loop trail from the Ohanapecosh (S.E. corner of Rainier National Park) campground up to Silver Falls and back. I was alone as usual - because I find it refreshing to get some space from my fellow chatty hominids.( A quiet trail companion, and fellow listener, is a real find, in my experience).

Walking back to the campground on the west side of the river, the trail passes beneath a rough rock "wave" that is just curling over - unlike water it may take a thousand years to crash. Anyway, the outcrop functions as an excellent amphitheater, or "earth ear" as I think of it. Something in the overhanging curve of this little rock wall accentuates the sounds below. Walking past this rock wall, the sounds of the river far below are dramatically amplified, as I suppose any sound from that direction would be. It really is a remarkable spot - maybe only along 30 ft. of trail. Two steps beyond the rock the sound level drops right off. Two steps back and the sound pops right up again. The phenomenon really got me smiling. You gotta be quiet and paying attention to notice.

Sound is funny, and so is hearing. I guess that "earth ear" functioned like a geological hearing aid. I'm living in my Middle Ages and do have some hearing loss, so I appreciate help from rocks, or wherever I can get it.

Another way to hear things better is to get closer. My wife is always asking me "hey, what's that bird?", on hearing a bird on a walk. "What bird?" I'll ask, not hearing it. I can hear a Brown Creeper, or Golden-crowned Kinglet just fine if I'm close enough.

There is something special about hearing a bird at close range. About six years ago, I was down in Southern New Mexico, in winter, when I visited a small marsh, looking for birds. Snooping in on the edge of the marsh (thought I heard sumpthin'), I was very quietly stepping in, when I was shocked by an incredibly loud "whinny" call from a Sora Rail. I was so close that I could feel the sound as much as hear it! Incredible! Never did see the bird, though it could only have been a few feet away. My ears were flapping. Neato.

Years earlier, like when I still had the ears of a young teenager, my family leased a camp spot from the Bureau of Reclamation just off Conconully Reservoir, where we had a very nice spot on the clear cold waters of the West Fork of Salmon Creek. In the hundred degree August days of summer vacation, us kids would be in the creek all day, farting around, building little dams, etc. In the evenings, as the evenings cooled off, I'd go down there to the creek to watch and listen. It was times like these when I might hear a singing Veery from a few feet away , as I sat quietly in the dusk. Beautiful anytime, but up that close - Amazing.

I just got back from a neighborhood walk with my (wife's) dog. In an informal survey I noted that 50% of the fellow walkers, or joggers, I passed by had earbuds in. What were they listening to? Bach? The Grateful Dead? A "how to make money in your spare time" tape, or possibly a "how to find birds in Western Washington" tutorial? Whatever, they weren't in the sound reality of me, the dog, and the birds, and the wind today. Whateverett.

And what about that Big Bang Theory? I mean, where did the fuse come from? The match? What lit the fuse? Did the Bang make a sound without ears to hear it? I sorta would like an explanation for all that - in simple english, please, so I can hear it.

Jeff Gibson

listening in

Everett WA

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