The Loudest Leaf

leafThe air pushed on the leaf, and the leaf pushed equally on the air, yet they both moved without resistance.

But none of that even occurred to me until afterward.

I was walking where I walk, and the strangest thing happened. A leaf fell from a tree. Nothing strange there. I saw it fall. That was a bit unusual. I heard it fall. Okay, now we’re talking weird.

I didn’t hear it while it was falling. It was when it hit the ground. We now enter the attempt-to-describe-the-indescribable zone…

It sounded just like what it should sound like when a leaf drops on the ground, except much louder. With more of a splashing quality than one might expect from the solid earth. Kuh-TOOSSSH, like how a boy mimics an explosion, except much shorter.

I saw the whole thing unfold, just a few feet in front of me, right before my very ears. I noticed the leaf at about eye level, and I watched it all the rest of the way down, so I knew exactly when the moment of splashdown was going to happen. This episode begs several questions: Did my brain copy and paste some sounds from my mind’s database on top of the actual sound? Did I actually hear what I heard, in the physiological sense, because I happened to be paying attention? If a leaf falls on my walk path and I’m not watching, does it really make a splash?


  • Tommy Posted June 5, 2010 10:38 am

    I remember having a similar epiphany one winter years ago in the wee small hours of the morning, sitting on the balcony at my apartment and enjoying the sibilant sound of snow smacking the ground. Until then, I’d never noticed you can actually hear snow falling. Attempts to replicate this experience in subsequent years have all been for naught. I REALLY like the “copy and paste” idea, though — hadn’t occurred to me, and I think there actually might be a grant in that. . . .

  • Tim Posted June 5, 2010 9:11 pm

    What you’re saying is, that if a leaf falls in the forest and one person hears it, it may not have made a sound.

    So now we have a base case. We can conclusively prove by induction that even if every tree that ever existed fell down at once in the presence of all the people who ever existed, we still wouldn’t be sure that they made a sound.

    I’m not sure if you’ve disproved philosophy, or everything else.

  • Victor Posted June 7, 2010 11:16 pm

    from my experience it all depends on ones state of mind what you hear and what you don’t hear. if you just sit and listen for a long time you will hear a lot of things that you have never heard before. or at least were not aware of. our mind can work both ways I think – as an amplifier of a real sound as well as a toolbox for the imagination of sounds.

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