I have a hearing loss. Sit next to me at a banquet table and I find it difficult to hear you with all the background noise. But put me on a deer stand and I can hear with amazing clarity. It becomes my temporary superpower for a short time in the fall. It starts in the predawn stillness when every sound is isolated and crisp. The colder and drier the forest, the more amplified sounds become.
The slamming of a truck door now sounds like a sonic boom, and my attempt to slowly, quietly close my door makes loud clicks of internal gears and latches. A branch snaps like a firecracker as I walk to my deer stand, surely spooking every deer in the forest.
Wolf howls and barred owl hoots make me pause in the predawn darkness. At this time I feel connected to something wild and primeval. I am using my senses to their fullest and experiencing the eat-or-be-eaten world of the wild. The scream of a bobcat in the distance makes my heart skip a beat in the dark.
Now I notice the squeaks and clangs of my steel tree stand. The crackling of a plastic bag, which holds my lunch, reminds me that I should have used a quiet cloth bag instead. (I have learned to unwrap candy bars before packing my lunch.)
Once I'm in my stand, my hearing superpower becomes both a help and a hindrance. Most of the time it gives me warning of an approaching deer, but at times the additional noises in the forest can confuse and add interference. Squirrels are the most notorious noisemakers. Their rustling of leaves at first sounds like a deer. It always takes a moment or two to figure out their erratic noises and patterns. Once I isolate their location, their shuffling becomes annoying background noise again. Once a porcupine walked through my area, but I swore I heard the cautious stop-and-go approach of a deer.
Despite these interferences, I also hear the most amazing things normally unnoticed in a noise-filled world. The loud multitudes of sounds ravens make, including their wingbeats overhead, are unmistakable.
I can hear the scratching of tiny songbird feet clinging to tree bark. A gray jay caching pieces of tallow from a deer gut pile behind birch bark sounds like someone plucking potato chips from a bag.
Sometimes, however, my enhanced hearing shuts down momentarily or gets only one out of four bars of satellite reception for unknown reasons. Deer suddenly appear from behind me without making a sound. Maybe those deer are skillfully timing their movement with interference noises.
In reality I've learned that physics can explain my temporary superpower. Cold air is denser than warm air, and sound waves slow down as they move, so I hear the sound over a longer time. Hearing a sound longer is an aid to comprehension. Also, the coldest temperature of the day is usually around dawn or shortly after sunrise. A layer of cold, dense air develops on the forest floor and refracts sound waves downward toward me, instead of up and away as on a warmer day. This cold layer is like fiber-optic walls that bend light inward as it travels. Because of this downward refraction, I perceive sounds as louder and can also hear sounds further away. Calm winds of morning also help me hear sounds by not adding to interfering background noises.
I am thankful for the short period I am exposed to a fascinating world of sounds not heard every day, and to feel more connected to the natural world. When I was much younger it once took me more than a few seconds to realize the sound I was hearing was not a deer approaching from behind. It moved every time I tried to turn my head to catch sight of it. It turns out three-day-old beard stubble rubbing against a coat collar can sound just like a cautious walking deer. Ah, one of the burdens of a superpower!