Shawnee News-Star Blog May 28th 2017  Becky Emerson Carlberg Have you given it much thought to the noise pollution that has invaded every nook and cranny of our lives?   As I sit and write, the refrigerator is humming, classical music is playing on the radio, a dog is barking in the distance, the wind is [...]

Shawnee News-Star Blog May 28th 2017

Bridge to Inner Garden, JPG

 Becky Emerson Carlberg

Have you given it much thought to the noise pollution that has invaded every nook and cranny of our lives?   As I sit and write, the refrigerator is humming, classical music is playing on the radio, a dog is barking in the distance, the wind is blowing, traffic is moving on the Interstate over a mile away, the squirrel is clambering over the metal bird feeder, and a constant squeaking has been going on for some time.   The downy woodpecker family is introducing their two fledges to the suet feeder.   I watched one young male attempt to fly to the hanging feeder cage but grabbed the metal support pole instead and steadily slide down to within a foot of the ground.   He voiced his concern, then mustered the energy to fly up to a branch, regain his composure, and try again to get to food.   The little birds have been at it for quite a while, interrupted frequently by the noisy red-breasted woodpecker that dominates in size and aggressiveness.

On CBS Sunday Morning, April 23rd 2017 (day after Earth Day), a feature was about 'Sacred Silence.' The Hoh Rainforest is on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington State.   It is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the USA and receives twelve to fourteen FEET of rain per year.   The luxuriant tree canopies of conifers and deciduous trees cover layers of mosses and ferns.   It is a natural sound proof area and site of the 'One Square Inch of Silence' noise project started by Gordon Hempton twelve years ago.   A small red stone marks the spot that he considers the quietest place in the United States.   Some airlines have even rerouted flights to avoid the square inch.

Study Nature

Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist.   He feeds his soul through his ears nourished by pure unpolluted natural quiet.   The sound teacher and writer has traveled all over the world listening to nature soundscapes.   He has recorded the sounds of oceans, prairies, forests and mountains.   In Sri Lanka, weeks were spent taping beautiful music of the night created by choruses of frogs and insects weaving deep textures. The man entered a Sitka spruce log in Alaska to listen to the sound of the ocean vibrate the tree fibers.   Sitka spruce wood is used in the soundboards of pianos, guitars, violins and other stringed instruments.   The wood fibers are stimulated by acoustic energy and produce rich tones and resonance.

Silence is not absence of sound but of noise. Quiet places calm our nerves (think of a library.)   People are less likely to help each other in noisy areas.   Gordon feels when we become listeners of nature, we become better listeners to each other.   Humans have developed a peak hearing sensitivity range that can pick up birds singing far away  in nature.

The natural soundscapes are vanishing.   Ninety percent of people who come to commune with nature come to not only see but hear a kinder and gentler world.   In Glacier National Park within the Rocky Mountains of Montana, hikers now complain of hearing motorcycles. An acoustic funneling of sound flows through the pass across Hidden Lake.   One motorcycle can be heard 15 miles away.

As sounds increase, there are consequences with wildlife.   Their hearing is masked by noise. According to Bernie Krause, musician and soundscape ecologist, the great animal orchestra has lots to say.   A different narrative is composed by nature every day. The voice of the natural world has changed over the past forty years.   Over fifty percent of the sounds of nature no longer exist.

The Noise Control Act of 1972 established a policy to promote an environment free from noise that jeopardizes health and welfare of all Americans.   It established Federal noise emission standards, promoted research and provided noise information to the public.  The EPA cut funding in 1982, closed the noise abatement office and shifted the responsibility to the state and local governments.

Gordon says 'Save what you love at any cost.   When we fall back in love with planet Earth"that is when the environmental crises will be solved.' In an ironic twist of fate, Gordon suffered hearing loss in 2012.   Boundary Waters Canoe area in Minnesota and Haleakala National Park in Hawaii are two other quiet places Gordon has found.   Others he will not disclose.

Places of quiet are indeed hard to find.   The earth itself producing a constant hum   caused by the action of waves over its surface.   Noise-cancelling headphones will eliminate all sound which makes some people rather uncomfortable.  Power outages can reveal a quietness not usually heard.   While my family was living in North Carolina, a large hurricane with a double eye passed over Wilmington. Within the eyes (all power was off), the stillness was amazing.   Birds and people's voices could distinctly be heard; so too the high wind roaring in the distance.   An ice storm in eastern Oklahoma shut down electrical power. We were more than aware of the sharp cracking of splitting tree branches and the thundering sound made as they hit the ground throughout the dark night. We felt we were under siege.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

The inside of Mammoth cave was indescribable after the lights were turned off.   Our group stood still in near absolute darkness and listened to the drip, drip, drip of water falling from the ceiling, the inhale and exhale of breathing, the gurgling of stomachs and our hearts beating.   This is quiet.

It is nearly impossible to avoid noise, but there are places that offer peace.   Walking through the woods or prairies,  along lakes or creeks can help one attune to nature.   My favorite place in Shawnee is the Japanese Peace Garden.   There are distractions, but here can also be found shelter and benches for sitting and contemplating.   You can listen to the birds and enjoy the trees and native plants in solitude.   It's as close to nature as you can get in a public park.