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Listening in a Fidgety World

Walking through the woods, the trees are still. One may walk past their trunks the way one walks past a couch or a chair. To a preoccupied walker, trees are the furniture of the forest: still, quiet, waiting. The walker is the one moving, the one making sounds even if their footsteps are light. They cause a rustle as they brush against the still, silent undergrowth. A beetle scuttles across the path, but its sound is so small that it is inaudible to the distant ears of the walker.

The walker may or may not be aware of the birdsong that permeates the forest. The walker may be aware of the birds, the forest, the beetle, the undergrowth, but their attention may be on their thoughts, or on the sound of their own breathing, or on the familiar ache in their knee.

Should the walker stop walking, the roles mysteriously shift. The walker becomes furniture - still, quiet, a place for a gnat to land. If they are attentive to their surroundings, the forest suddenly speaks to them in a multiplicity of simultaneous languages. If they look up, they see the vast and incessant swaying of the trees. The one standing may become aware of the constant rustle of the leaves above, peppered with creaks of rubbing branches and snaps of brittle twigs. The birds become an all-encompassing cacophony, punctuated with the croaks of ravens. The forest is no longer a still, stable room. It is a living, breathing organism, as kinetic, restless and musical as any animal.

The city is like this too: motors, dog barks, train hoots, plane rumbles, twitters of robins, squeals of children, door slams, car alarms, the poundings of hammers and the monster-breath-sound of roofers' torches.

And one's own body, even in moments of outward stillness: the ceaseless sound of blood moving through veins and arteries, the quickening and slowing pulse of the heart, the intermittencies of breath's inrush-pause-outflow-rest-repeat.

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