This morning a very large storm cell rolled through with claps of thunder so loud and violent that it woke most of us as it rattled the walls and windows of the 100+ year old house in which we were staying. A sharp reminder of something that I talk about great a deal when discussing the importance of listening. Our hearing does not turn off, even while we sleep. Evolutionarily, this was probably very important for millions and millions of years. Rest is important but so is remaining safe from predators and other dangerous elements. This storm also afforded me two other opportunities this morning to witness how important keen hearing is in this type of environment (the farm) in which maintenance and awareness of the facilities and resources is of key importance. Joe Lucina, founder and co-director of the Grin City Collective is also responsible for much of the upkeep of the house, property and buildings. This morning, he and I were sitting at the dinning room table eating and all of a sudden he jumped up and went out the to porch. What been a slight dripping sound from the ongoing deluge of rain suddenly made a different sound. It was subtle but it could have been something major. Turns out it was not a portion of the roof collapsing but instead something else that outside and on the roof, maybe a clogged cutter finally hitting the overflow point.Later in the morning, I was finishing my coffee and a chapter from a book I’m reading when all of sudden Joe came running down the stairs. It’s the weekend and him and I are the only ones in the Brick House and awake. From his upstairs studio, he had heard a noise outside in the strong wind that sounded out of the ordinary and when he looked out, noticed that the turkey pen he and Carolyn Grace Sherf had built was overturned by the wind and the small turkeys were walking around the yard. He raced out to make sure none of the birds were hurt or trapped and then he and I worked to flip it back over, heard the birds back in, and re-secure it using some heavy weight and few properly tied bowline knots. None of the birds escaped and once we cut some vents in the tarp roof to give some wind somewhere to go, the birds seemed perfectly safe and content.
Being connected to the soundscape of the farm is an important aspect of the work that is done here. I had a great conversation last night with Jordan Scheibel who runs a CSA garden from the Grin City farm called Middle Way Farm. During the open studio, he had tried on a set of my modified headphones made from hearing protection earmuffs. He told me a story about how when runs the till, it is incredibly loud and in order to reduce the risk of hearing damage from exposure, he wears earmuffs while using it. The other day, he was trying someone else to use it and let them use the earmuffs for their own comfort which provided him the chance to hear the machine running with open ears. “Holy shit that’s loud!” he said. He also realized just how much information was in that listening experience. He could better hear how the till was working and when it hit obstacles like glass or metal. He has no interest in operating this thing entirely without the use of hearing protection but the headphones that I created got him curious about other ways in which he might be able to mitigate the noise so that it is both less dangerous to his hearing yet maintains his connection to the sounds of the machine functioning.
Listening connects us to our environment. and provides information about what is happening around us. It warns of danger and provides us with pleasure. It lets us know if something is as it should be and can inform us if anything has gone wrong. Listening on the farm is a great experience for me as an agricultural tourist but last night and this morning reminded me that the necessary listening is as much functional as it is enlightening.