I hear you! Listening to the world

I picked up a chest infection and cold in February that wiped me out. Thankfully, I’m getting back to myself this week and am back working and writing and walking.

One thing I have been catching up on are the transcripts of glorious interviews for my PhD. Each one is brilliant, for the people who participated and for the unexpected participants – the blackbird, the crow, the bees and wasps, the sheep, the lichen, the squirrels, the wind, the rain, the sun… There are so many voices in the recordings and in my field notes. It is a joy to hear them all, even if I don’t understand everything that is being communicated.

This attention, this active listening, has helped me to observe myself. I noticed when we were out walking at the weekend that I say “I hear you” to the wind, the rustle of leaves and tree branches, to the birds, to animals. It turns out that I do this a lot, but wasn’t aware of it. As I get older, I’m less fussed if people think I’m strange for chatting to something they haven’t noticed. They are probably so busy thinking about their own lives that they haven’t even noticed me, never mind that I’m engaging in conversation with a robin. If they do notice, it might bring a bit of joy to their day 🙂

This feeling of being “less fussed” links in with a great paper I read this week (thanks Beth!) by Robbie and Pauline (Nicol & Sangster, 2019). In it, one of the participants, Louise, is concerned she might be perceived as an “absolute weirdo” for sitting outside in a public place appearing to do nothing in particular. As someone who realised that she was laughing with joy at being caught up in the dance of a little wind dervish outside the full-length glass windows of the canteen at work in broad daylight, I believe I have worked past at least some of that concern myself, but it is understandable. I wonder if it is that concern about what human others might think that is the reason we don’t allow ourselves to connect as much as we could, to be aware of our surroundings, and listen to the many entities that share it.

In the theoretical background to the paper, Robbie and Pauline draw together research focused on the importance of paying attention to our place, of learning to listen, of coming to know the places we frequent. They ask, can we come to see the places we pass through daily in a different way, to actively engage with our places, and in so doing, to “find the unfamiliar within the familiar and the extraordinary within the ordinary” (Nicol & Sangster, 2019; p. 13). In being aware, in listening, and in acknowledging “I hear you”, I become more a part of the place where I am. Perhaps, by listening, I may someday come to understand.

Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us – and if they still try, we will not likely hear them. (Abram, 2010; p.175)


Abram, D. (2010) Becoming animal: An earthly cosmology. Vintage. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/318/becoming-animal-by-david-abram/

Nicol, R., & Sangster, P. (2019). You are never alone: understanding the educational potential of an ‘urban solo’in promoting place-responsiveness. Environmental Education Research, 1-18.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2019.1576161 #paywall