Not the End of the World, the Blend of the Worlds: Magnolia Loop

Sometimes I wear headphones on the journeyfoot. Usually, I do not. I have always had a slight paranoia that my hearing will get worse if I listen to music through earpieces. My left ear has not worked for as many years of my life as I can remember. Why, when or how it started I am unsure. I only know it was not until kindergarten that my hearing problem was discovered. Do they still administer hearing tests at school these days? You know, the kind with those giant headphones and the annoying beeeeeeps. They tell you to raise your right hand when you hear the beep in your right ear and your left hand when you hear the beep in your left ear. Well I remember sitting in an orange plastic chair of my elementary school, the big black cushions of headphones over my small ears drowning out all sounds of the outside world, and wondering to myself why they were only playing the beeeeeeps in my right ear. Since then, doctors have always cautioned me about listening to music too loudly or via headphones. However, as we all know, music is magic! It can play such a huge role in our experiences, and the ability to take that magic out on a journeyfoot is pretty effing cool!

So… close your eyes (actually don’t close them, because you wouldn’t be able to read this, but close your other thoughts) and imagine you are sitting on a crowded bus and you are listening to music via earpieces. Imagine the ipod in your hand, or the cell phone, or the discman, whatever! The sound of the music is loud enough to drown out the sounds of everything happening around you, the “outside world”, yet you are still watching everything going on around you. You just can’t hear it. Instead, you hear your favorite music. Imagine how the music in your ears is impacting how you feel about what is happening in your immediate environment. It might feel as though you are less a part of it and more watching it. By listening to music this way, you are not using one of your senses to perceive what is happening around you, but instead are overwhelming that sense in something that no one else around you can perceive. It’s almost as though you are in another world, your own world. And it can be a beautiful thing, to experience something via this different perspective.

On the flip side, now imagine riding that bus without your own personal soundtrack in your ears. Instead, you hear the man seated behind you tell his girlfriend or wife where he thinks they should go for dinner, and you want so badly to turn around and see what face matches that voice. You hear the cackle of the bus driver on the speakers announcing the next stop. The honk of a taxi. It’s an entirely different experience, or world, and just as beautiful as the one with music.

I think of these differences when I decide whether or not I want to wear headphones on a journeyfoot. It really changes the experience of everything, not in a better or worse way, just in a different way. On Saturday I plugged my ear pieces in the side holes of my head and set out for a journeyfoot to a new area of Seattle: Magnolia. In terms of land area, Magnolia is the second biggest neighborhood in Seattle. The peninsula is home to my beloved Discovery Park, which is also Seattle’s largest park. If Captain Vancouver had correctly named the land for the large trees he saw from the waters of Puget Sound, Magnolia would be called Madrona instead.

From my home, the best way to get to Magnolia on foot is via the Ballard Locks. As I was dodging tourists and families while quickly crossing over the locks, I slightly turned down the volume of my ipod for no particular reason. Hearing all of the sounds around me against the ever so slight backdrop of music was an entirely different experience. As I covered more and more ground, I continued listening at the lower volume and decided I should do it more often. I could hear the train on the tracks I had crossed several minutes earlier, the clinking leash of the golden retriever across the street, car tires slowly moving on pebbly pavement. And I could also hear the rhythmic melodies of Sea Wolf dancing through my head. I realized that I was then a part of both of those worlds, which in turn became a third world.

The route of this journeyfoot, which basically was a loop around Magnolia, indeed became one I will keep in my backpocket. (In fact, I did the exact same route two days later. I am looking forward to discovering the difference during the cloudy or rainy weather, as both 6.5 mile trips were made on marvelously sunny late afternoons.) The hilly neighborhood streets on which I trekked were dotted with houses I would be happy to live in. Very happy. If I were to ever own a house in a neighborhood with other houses at relatively close proximity, I would choose a neighborhood like this one, where the age of each house cannot quite be determined and not one looks anything like the other. Some are brick and most likely from the 1930s. Others appear to have been recently built or perhaps remodeled. All are exquisite. I would bet this particular area of Magnolia is an affluent community, with occasional gated homes, large yards and expansive windows. At the time I was passing through there, anyone standing in those yards or looking out through those windows would have seen a shimmering Puget Sound and the whitish-blue Olympic Mountains below a golden setting sun. But you don’t have to live in one of the houses there to experience that! Like me, other bundled up pedestrians were enjoying the views along the cement sidewalk.

Though I love being out in the wilderness, I very much enjoy these “suburban” journeyfoots. I can walk out my door and be outside in the beautiful world amongst trees, plants, water and dirt even when there are houses, cars and people all around. A perfectly straight white line stretched across the massive sky of brilliant colors. Though I’ve thought this same thought four thousand times while peering at a tiny plane, I thought it again: up in that little dot high in the sky, there are people my size (or bigger!) headed somewhere in the world, on their own adventure, not knowing that I even exist let alone am spending my minutes thinking of who they could be or where they could be going. Washington State Ferry boats intersected each other’s paths on the smooth waters, and they, too, seemed so small. Oh, and the city of Seattle skyline! From atop the hillside where I stood, the natural world seemed to swallow the buildings, even though I know when I am standing on those crowded streets in between the skyscrapers, “small” is not the adjective that would come to mind unless of course I was describing myself in relation to the city. I couldn’t help but notice a common theme: another blending of two worlds, the natural and the manmade. The notion can be breathtaking from a certain angle, particularly the angle from the hillside which I walked.

I often feel a bit of technology-anxiety. Buildings are popping up everywhere. Everyone is always tuned in. And I am a part of it all. This “manmade” world we are living in. And so often I want to break out of it and throw my cell phone in the gutter, stomp off to the woods in rebellion and breathe a sigh of relief that only the wilderness can bring. Yet there are other times, like walking the “Magnolia Loop”, which remind me there is a harmony that can very much exist between the natural and the not-so-natural. This synchronization lends itself to a third world; a world of balance in which we are aware of our surroundings and able to choose the degree of each world into which we incorporate ourselves, whether it be a walk in the woods versus a walk in the city or a combination of both.

Like everything, it seems to be about balance. Some days I will turn the volume up because I could give a rat’s ass what restaurant some dude is taking his girlfriend to that night while I am alone and eating cold, leftover quinoa and mashed avocado from a cooking pot while sitting in front of my heater in my jammies. Nope, I’d rather stare at the rain on the window and listen to Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy.” Other times I want to hear the girl at the front of the bus yapping on her cell phone to God only knows what poor soul about the most trivial topics of conversation in the kind of voice that makes me cringe yet yearn to hear more of it just to cringe.

Next time you are sitting on a bus or walking down a street, camping in the woods or strolling along a beach, try listening to both worlds at the same time. Aladdin was right. You might just find “a whole new woooorrllld.”

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