Alma's Listening Bench

I live in a neighborhood of Minneapolis that is, thankfully, filled with trees. Just steps from the National Scenic Byway of the Mississippi River, we are surrounded by miles and miles of tree-lined parkway with walking, running and biking trails. It’s a great place to live and to explore both my connection to and relationship with the natural world!

On our private little plot of land, we have our own trees that we tend to and care for. In fact, we have named all eight of them. The grande dame is a silver maple, named Silver Sue. She towers over our tiny sanctuary of a back yard and fills our summer mornings and evenings with a cacophony of sounds rising from squirrels who endlessly rustle through her branches along with birds of multiple varieties and musical endeavors. I enjoy listening to all their musings just as much as I enjoy trying to figure out how Sue got to be so big in such a small space!

Silver Sue may well be queen of the back yard and commander of the animal shenanigans she invites there, but the tree that holds, in a sense, the rest of our home (and us) is a Norway Maple that resides in our front yard. Her name is Alma. She appears to be hugging our house and has arms that stretch far beyond our little lot boundaries. The ground beneath her reach is covered with shade loving perennials; a small peaceful garden it would seem.

Recently, we were asked by a neighbor to put a bench under Alma so that she could listen to the piano playing that flows from our house quite often and is especially loved by neighbors when the windows are open in the summer. The plantings below Alma allowed for such a request, so we found a small curved bench that seemed to wrap itself around Alma’s girth like a scarf slung over her shoulders. I tested its placement and stability and found myself listening before I could actually see what I was hearing. 

Unlike the energetic chaos of Silver Sue’s world, spending time on Alma’s Listening Bench was quite a different experience. It was a morning in which gentle breezes moved Alma’s leaves melodically while also hosting a beautiful filtered and dappled light to accompany those breezes. Dark branches reaching up were silent, but steady and strong and in total support of the leaf dance I was listening to.  Behind me, I was only vaguely aware of a children’s playground in the distance. No chaos here. Pure music in both my listening and seeing. 

On Alma’s Listening Bench, I came to appreciate again, or perhaps more deeply, that listening is part of my photographic seeing. Like everything else worth my love and effort, it requires practice.

Do you have a “listening bench”?