discovering place

mapping the senses : walk 1 - hearing

        Harsh squeaking paired with the clang clang of corrugated steel and the roar of a jet flying overhead is how my first walk began and ended. A consistent crunching of my feet and musical rattling of the ice in my water bottle was present underneath all of the  other sounds throughout my walk. There was, of course, a medley of city sounds that followed me the whole way through, sputtering motorcycles driving by, the friendly ding dinging of the streetcar in the distance, truck tires crunching gravel, more jets overhead, sometimes flying in pairs. But the soft crunch of my feet hitting the ground at a consistent pace became the mantra of the walk, rhythmic like a heartbeat, evidence that I was there.

            A few minutes in I could hear the shouts and laughter of children so I followed it until I found myself as an onlooker at an elementary school recess. The sounds of the kids playing pulled me out of my walking task and transported me back with a fierce wave of sour nostalgia. In that moment I thought about how I’ve made a strong habit of ignoring most of my memories that took place between the ages of 6 and 14. Our society tries to portray childhood as this era of sweetness, innocence, playgrounds and parks and being blissfully ignorant to the harshness of the world, but my childhood was interrupted. And so when I stumble across the sounds of children happily at play I am not reminded of the innocence of youth or the bliss of recess, but rather the interruption of youth that I experienced. I spent the rest of my walk focusing on other sounds to drown out the shrill laughter behind me. A roaring jet, trucks billowing by, crunch crunch crunch of my heartbeat feet hitting the gravel, the clinking of the ice in my water bottle, a bus screeching to a hault, and finally seven long rings of a bell signaling the end of recess and sending the laughing children back inside their school building.

            I thought a lot about my Grandmother who, after years of losing vision, is finally completely blind. I tried to focus on the sounds without looking at the source of them, tried to identify them using only one of my senses. The clacking of a hammer hitting something unbeknownst to me, the twittering of a bird that I didn’t allow myself to look at, approaching footsteps that I forcefully averted my gaze to prevent myself from seeing who they belonged too. What does the world feel like when sight has been removed? What fears bubble up to the surface when you limit the sense we rely on most? I noted the way the sound of my feet would change as I stepped from sidewalk to gravel, gravel to asphalt, asphalt to leaf littered sidewalk. The musical clinking of the ice in my water bottle is pleasant in my hand but when I lift it up to drink it becomes abrasive, the ice grating against the aluminum, and then crunching between my teeth, the sound my own body makes as I gulp down the water.

        One sound stands out so I cross the street to get closer and hear something unusual for Tucson, running water, I pause for a moment to listen to the trickling before continuing on my way. I follow the steady paced crunch crunch crunching of my feet until I am welcomed home by the clanging of the gate and the booming of the jet plane flying overhead.