river talk

The solace of natural sound

Posted 12/23/20

Many years ago, on a silken starlit night, I sat peering into the dancing flames of a campfire, mesmerized by the occasional dervish of blaze and smoke. It swept into the inky sky by gusts of air …

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river talk

The solace of natural sound


Many years ago, on a silken starlit night, I sat peering into the dancing flames of a campfire, mesmerized by the occasional dervish of blaze and smoke. It swept into the inky sky by gusts of air that toyed with the swooping branches of nearby pines, generating soft swishes of susurrating sound—natural sound—unmarred by human-generated noise.

A sense of peace and calm permeated my mind. In the stillness, a thrush began to call from deep within the forest. As the achingly beautiful call ceased and resumed, it rose and fell against a natural silence that made it possible for me to perceive this priceless gift. I lost all sense of separateness and entered into communion with the elements of this experience.

Over time, I’ve become increasingly aware of the rising noise level in our world and alarmed by the impacts of noise not only on humans but also on other species. It’s become evident that others share these concerns.

 “I care very deeply about quiet,” writes acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has “circled the globe three times over the past 35 years in pursuit of Earth’s rarest sounds—sounds which can only be fully appreciated in the absence of manmade noise.” In the process, Hempton has concluded that silence is on the verge of extinction, and that its protection is essential.

“Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything,” writes Hempton, Founder of One Square Inch: A Sanctuary For Silence at Olympic National Park (www.onesquareinch.org). “It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it. By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past and to ourselves.”

Hempton’s work has expanded with his role as co-founder of Quiet Parks International (QPI, www.quietparks.org), a nonprofit committed to the preservation of quiet for the benefit of all life. QPI is creating a set of classifications, standards, testing methods and management guidelines for the world’s pristine and endangered quiet places, establishing the world’s first Wilderness Quiet Park and developing a list of more than 262 potential sites around the world.

Closer to home, a community-focused attorney based in Clarks Summit, PA who works with sustainable community development, noise pollution and more (www.shannonbrownlaw.com) has been appointed to the advisory team at QPI. “I quietly fight noise pollution in our communities and our natural environment as an attorney, educator, researcher and community advocate,” writes Shannon Brown. “I crave quiet—you will likely find me outdoors gardening, walking in the woods, or sitting by a stream. Yet, I live in a world that increasingly pumps noise pollution into the environment without even a thought.”

According to QPI, noise can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, sleep disturbance, annoyance, cognitive and hearing impairment; it also reduces quality of life, well-being and mental health. Conversely, natural sound can reduce stress, anxiety, repetitive thoughts, heart rate and blood pressure while improving cognitive abilities, reasoning, mood, concentration, calm, awe and a sense of wonder.

The anxiety-provoking tenor of the past year has extracted an undeniable toll. Give yourself the gift of time spent in spaces and places where natural sound is not yet extinct. Then get involved in efforts to #SAVEQUIET. QPI is seeking sound recordists to work with Hempton to identify, test and analyze various quiet designations. Learn more at www.quietparks.org.

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