Noise, Silence, and Natural Silence

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal (June 19, 1623 to August 19, 1662)

Generally, I agree with Pascal’s statement.

However, I can sit quietly in a room alone. I am a writer. I write and read and think nearly continuously. I am jotting down ideas, notes, and lines of dialog constantly.

As I sit here in my kitchen in a small apartment in a sprawling complex in a park-like setting, I am struggling at all of these today.

The fridge’s motor is clicking on and running nearly continuously. Yard service employees of the company hired by apartment management are here with lawnmowers and blowers. A roofing service is re-roofing all of the buildings in the complex, and this work is getting closer to the building I live and work in. Noise from compressors, nail guns, hammering, and yelling employees is ever present until knock off time.

Depending on the day of the week, the trash service truck visits. On a separate day, the recycling truck visits.

Another writer (who lives in the same building) and I commiserate about how loud it can be here at times while we are trying to work!

The area contains many trees, and these absorb some of the noise. These trees also moderate some of the high temperatures we have occasionally. So, ultimately I am grateful; I am writing and I am taking part in the literary conversation.

In contemporary life in urban parts of the United States (especially), noise is ever present. I think that it is clear that we may not even be aware of what we have lost in this din.

“The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague.” – Robert Koch (December 11, 1843 to May 27, 1910) [as quoted in Hempton’s Prologue to One Square Inch of Silence].

Have you heard of the “One Square Inch of Silence” Project? Gordon Hempton is an award-winning sound recording engineer and acoustic ecologist. In his and John Grossmann’s book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World (2009), Hempton details his path to becoming an acoustic ecologist and discusses our noisy world, his quest for natural silence, and his lobbying efforts.

I attended his presentation in 2009 in Bellingham, WA. He played some of his recordings of natural silence, and these were exquisite. A couple of recordings I can recall were the music of melting ice and of logs battering a beach. Stunning and wondrous!

He describes One Square Inch of Silence as a place: deep in the Hoh Valley of the Olympic National Park here in Washington State there is a place which is nearly completely free of human-made noise. The exception is a regular fly over by passenger jet airplanes. He is lobbying for switching the transit route away from this part of the Olympic National Park. That’s where the “One Square Inch of Silence” Project comes in.

Please listen to Hempton’s recordings, learn about and support the Project.

OK, it’s much quieter for now. I have to return to a short story I am working on. Blessings to all, Andy

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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