Noise Pollution

by Christine Maccabee

It is hard to believe that Charles Lindbergh, who made the first transatlantic flight in his plane in 1927, would say such a thing as in the above quote, but he did. Upon retirement, he and his wife, Anne, started a foundation that gave grants to persons who were working to “improve the quality of life through a balance between technology and nature,” discerning nature’s essential wisdom so as to “balance technological power with reverence for life.”

Through the Lindbergh Foundation, Gordon Hempton, author of the book One Square Inch of Silence, applied for and was given a grant in 1989 to explore and understand the problems with excessive noise, as well as the beauty of natural sounds. His mission was to cross the country in his old VW bus, starting in Washington State and ending at the nation’s capital to deliver his proposal to reduce sound pollution in national and state parks. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound level meter, he preserved soul-soothing natural soundscapes, as well as the ever rising din of man-made noises.

I, too, have problems with mechanical noises, not necessarily as an ecological issue, but as a personal one. As I am getting older, my intolerance for traffic noise, loud music, and mowers has increased. However, as I reflect on my life, I realize that I have always had problems with loud noises. Sometimes, I think I am more bird than human! I love the songs of birds and have recorded many of them with my pencil on staff-lined paper, bits and pieces of exquisite notes, raw material for the creation of enchanting music on the piano.

Everyone loves birds, I am sure, but where loud noises are present, their mating calls can be disturbed and may never be heard by a potential mate. Noise also impacts young children, as I witnessed at an indoor concert, where the music was even too loud for me. The young children were fussy, even crying, but when the music stopped, they became peaceful and happy. That’s how I feel when I get back home after a long road trip or an open mic, where the twang of amplified steel strings and strident voices practically chase me out of the room.

Natural sounds are indeed soothing, even healing, as many of us know. In my research, anything above 120 decibels can be very painful, even harmful. A chainsaw can get as high as 85 decibels, depending on how close you are, and a large mower, though not as loud, can adversely affect a person who is just trying to quietly enjoy working in their gardens. A brief 20-30 minutes of mowing is one thing, but 3-4 hours is another. Those days, as the mowers drone on where I live, I stay in my well-insulated home, even though I would rather be outside. When the mowers stop, my entire body stops vibrating and I feel a physical drop in anxiety.

Some people have no problem at all with such noise. I suppose it depends on your disposition and your ability to ignore noise, but I just cannot. Having really good hearing can be a curse at such times. Also, a love of natural sounds and quiet are like food for my soul.

Gordon Hempton had great success reaching his goal of presenting Congress with his proposal to the National Park Service. I only hope legislators continue to take the noise issue to heart. There is a sign in the Rocky Mountain National Park that reads:

“The call of an owl,

The music of a flowing stream,

  The hush of a winter forest…

  Nature’s sounds and natural

quiet are just as rare as the

native plants and animals of

this park.”

Early June, out here in the Catoctin mountains where I live, there will be a couple Saturdays for people to come and just stop, look, and listen. Give me a shout if you are interested in visiting my nature sanctuary. I welcome any people willing to be quiet for a spell and learn about critically important plants as habitat for wildlife.

Meantime, I hope you find the quiet you need where you live. Sometimes, that even means turning off the TV and radio! Seek quiet time, soul-soothing time, as a gift to yourself.

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