Photo Richard Nelson

Years ago, a friend handed me a pair of headphones and a parabolic dish. He then slung a recorder around my neck, pointed to a button and said,“Push this. It’ll change your life.”

I stepped down the beach, hit the button.

The gravel under my boots became a rock slide in my inner ear. Two-inch waves lapping against shore exploded like giant surf. A gull drifted over the cove, clucked once, and filled my skull with sound. I eased forward, slow and gentle, aware of each grinding, shuffling step. That giant bionic ear transformed the afternoon into an expansive auditory hallucination - cackling ptarmigan, yodeling loon, hissing barnacle, slippery pop of seaweed under foot.

It was early evening when the batteries died. I slipped off the headphones and stood in a world I thought I knew. It was like being gifted the miracle of glasses after decades of lousy eyesight. Vague sounds rang crisp, hushed whispers washed clean. How was it that I’d been in Alaska my entire life and never paused to fully listen?

Walking back to camp, my senses, even without headphones, remained tuned to rustling leaves and whistling wings. My ears were not broken, I realized, just clogged with a life time of neglect.

In the intervening years, I've worn out a couple sets of headphones and replaced several cracked parabolics. On this page you'll find a tiny sample of the thousands of recordings I've captured in an effort to hear what my neighbors have to say.

 

00:00 / 01:04