OPINION

Hearing the important stuff

Steve Lekwa

Readers of this column know that I value quiet time and quiet places. It might be a surprise, then, to know that I, too, sometimes wish to have the sounds around me enhanced. I suppose it’s that I value some sounds more than others, and unfortunately, it’s those sounds that I have the most difficulty hearing. It might be my grandson asking me a question or maybe the sound of a chickadee singing its high whistled spring song on a sunny late winter morning. It might be the sound of air rushing over wings as a flock of ducks passes by in the predawn darkness or the shuffling of an unseen turkey approaching through forest litter. It’s usually helpful to hear and understand what my wife is trying to say, too!

It’s not that I don’t try to hear these things. Hearing ability naturally fades as we age. I’m afraid that my ears have aged maybe a little more rapidly than the rest of me has – not that the rest of me is far behind. If I knew then what I know now it might be different. I might have worn ear protection when mowing lawns for a summer job as a kid (though ear protection had hardly been invented back then). I might have more frequently worn ear protection that was available by the time I was running chain saws and operating even louder machinery, including airplanes, as a young man. I wear hearing protection devices now, but the damage to my hearing was done many years ago. I haven’t had to deal with skin cancer yet, but I’m afraid I didn’t wear sun protection like I should have in the past, either. Many folks my age are paying a very high price for that mistake.

I was fitted with hearing aids several years ago. They were quite expensive and they help me hear things like my grandson’s or wife’s comments. The TV doesn’t have to be as loud. They’re a far cry from healthy normal hearing, though. I often don’t bother with them if it’s very windy outdoors or if I’m going to have something like ear flaps or a hood over my head when it’s cold. They’re supposed to detect and shut out extra loud sounds automatically, but they’re not much good when I’m banging away on something with a hammer or the old shotgun. I also bought a set of headphones that serve double duty. They protect me from loud sounds like chain saws, mowers and guns, but also amplify other sounds and aren’t as badly affected by wind as my in-ear aids are. While they allow me to hear things like faint or distant bird songs, they’re not very good at helping me judge the direction or distance those enhanced sounds are coming from.

That posed a problem last Saturday while I was listening ever so carefully for the approach of a wild turkey. I could clearly hear an old gobbler with the headphones, but had to take them off to estimate which direction he was and how far away. A couple of hens sneaked fairly close to me before I knew they were there when the headphones were off. Their sharp eyes caught me moving and I was concerned that the scolding they gave me would tip off the old tom. He was still pretty far away, and, lucky for me, he must not have heard or paid attention to his hen’s scolding. Maybe he needed some hearing aids, too. I left the headphones off, and it took him about a half hour to work his way toward my calls from the last place I heard him. Although I didn’t hear him coming, he will provide several memorable meals if I cook him right.

Most of us were born with two good eyes and ears to help us understand and appreciate the world around us. Although they slowly wear out, they can usually last a lifetime with reasonable care. Life still has many wonderful things that I may be able to experience even though I’m entering my upper 60s, and it’s those things that make life worth living. I hope that I can keep what vision and hearing I have left so that I can continue to experience the wonders of the world around me and understand the voices of those I love for as many more years as possible.