“Is this the color that you wanted?” The words sludged towards me loud and slow with exaggerated lip movements. A small plastic case, the size of an iPhone screen slid across the wooden desk; inside were the two new Oticon Alta 2 hearing aids that I had ordered weeks prior. I didn’t waste any time opening the box and pulling out a hearing aid: it was about two inches long with the top hook a golden-brown shade that was supposed to blend in with my hair realistically though it was a shiny beige. The hook connected to a clear flexible tube just wide enough that you could shove a pencil tip into the top of it, and it vanished into the ear mold that I had spent hours considering my options on. The molds were mostly clear with some bright green swirls mixed in and took over the entire ear except for the top curve that you can stick your thumb in and drag down to your ear lobe. There is a small vent hole under the tube, a single button on the back of the hearing aid hook, and at the bottom, a door that you can pry open with a fingernail that swings out to hold a battery. “Yes” I agreed.
I deftly stuck the mold into my ear and flipped the hook up and back to rest on the top of my ear where some people hoard pens or the sides of their glasses. The hard plastic clogged my ears diminishing background sounds and making my ears feel stuffy and warm. The rarely touched skin behind the crease of my ear protested the weight with threat of a blister. I squeezed the battery door closed and heard the hearing aid powering up in scales “ding ding ding” with the pitches rising, “ding” a few notes lower, followed by “ding ding” rising back up in pitch before sounds clicked on. I ran my finger along the top to see if it was on and heard a white noise almost like chapped hands rubbing together before sound rushed in and flooded my head until I was in sensory overload. The previously silent room was filled with the buzzing of the lights, a computer hum, footsteps outside the door and both of our breathing. The audiologist nodded her head, content with how I put in the hearing aids, attached wires to them that dropped over my shoulders laid across the desk connecting to her computer; they were programmed for two settings and I was sent on my way.
Outfitted with my new ears I decided to go to my favorite place. I grew up at the Zoo– I went to camps there every summer, became a teen volunteer, worked there, became an intern then volunteered another 100 hours with the birds of prey program. I was relaxed and content when I walked through the gate passing the mountain goats on my left and curving with the path to the black bear exhibit. There is access to the inside area designed to look like dens on the left and the path is above overlooking it. To the right you can see the steep slope containing a swimming hole, lots of trees (some with metal guards wrapped around the trunk to keep bears from climbing close enough to get onto the path), a heated den on one side with full glass windows, and somewhere in there, 3 bears. I leaned on the railing with the best view of the water taking deep breaths: I could smell the bear poop, fur and pine trees, there were birds chattering, and then something that I’d never heard before…a loud crack, snapping branches, leaves rustling, and the sound was moving. A wave of excitement ran through my body, I rose up onto the balls of my toes to get a better look below me and a smile blossomed across my mouth. I could hear the bear moving around! I’d heard about people listening for bears when they went hiking, but I didn’t comprehend how they’d know what to listen for or how they would know it was a bear and not a squirrel. Bears are heavy, and they don’t move silently. I realized that maybe if I use technology and really listen, I might find that bears don’t really sneak up on people.