I have developed an appreciation for silence. In a world where white noise permeates almost every nook and cranny of daily life, silence can be startling. Once the natural state of the night, quiet is now a regulation that rarely happens unless it is imposed.
In an effort to do just that, the managers of Muir Woods in Marin County California have established a “campaign for quiet.” In an article for the New York Times titled “Shh, and Not Because the Fauna are Sleeping,” (published in today’s paper) journalist Felicity Barringer points out the changes in wildlife that occur as a result of constant human decibel levels. In 2001 for example, Muir woods was left devoid of its once lively population of woodpeckers, spotted owls, and piliated woodpeckers. In an effort to bring back the species that had moved away from the increasing noise levels of what should have been a safe and ideal habitat, the park made efforts to silence maintenance vehicles and move dumpsters and garbage cans off of the trails. Signs were posted to remind visitors to be quiet, and decibel meters demonstrated just how loud their whispers really were.
Visiting this same park as a little girl, I can still remember the complete awe of staring upward at the endless tower of redwood tree trunk–the circumference of which extended far beyond the grasp of my outstretched arms. I can remember the sounds of the gurgling water beyond the trails, and the soft ground beneath my lightly thudding feet. Experiencing nature in silence is both eye opening and mind broadening. So often we feel the need to comment on every little thing that goes through our heads. We seek recognition and long to express our individuality and intelligence even when what we have to say isn’t necessarily all that meaningful. We send hundreds of text messages a day, fill uncomfortable moments with discussion of the weather, and ask questions that we already know the answers to in order to gain “points” in a system of ongoing rating and competition that constantly runs through our heads. By abstaining from using our vocal cords as we take in the complexity of a national park, we see more than if we fill the moment with words. Truly “seeing” nature goes beyond what any of us could describe with the limited use of language or the click of a camera lens.
Maybe we need to extend these regulations of silence to the world beyond our sanctioned parks–to spontaneous moments of reflection and appreciation that could occur every day. We deserve the opportunity to actually absorb our experience, rather than fly through it with the list of things for the future already scrolling behind our eyelids. Even when I recognize these moments (when I’m sitting out on my plot project for example) I realize that the minutes of quiet are few and far between. Though it is rarely acknowledged, noise pollution is a legitimate problem.
Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to be a little quieter.