What happened to silence? - Sarah Woodbury

What happened to silence?

With more than 80% of Americans living in metropolitan areas (and only 2% living as I do in towns of fewer than 25,000 people), nobody knows what real silence is anymore.   http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Population/

Writing historical fiction requires that you project yourself into that long ago past.  As the modern world hurtles headlong into the future, this becomes more and more difficult.  Trying to find spaces where it’s possible to get a sense of that historic time is getting harder by the day.

Like light pollution, noise pollution is everywhere.  This winter in the Olympic National Forest and on the Quinnault Indian Reservation, my husband and I experienced the silence of the natural world, though it is presently threatened by the air routes over it into Sea-Tac airport south of Seattle.

In Eastern Oregon, the silence can be complete–and loud–to the point of ringing in the ears–except for the chirp of a bird in the scrub beside the road.  Then the silence is broken by the sound of a crop duster, that returns again and again over the course of the half an hour walk.

In the times before machines, in Wales and the rural spaces of the world, people only knew this kind of silence.  Did we think differently as a result?  What kind of repercussions beyond sound does the lack of silence have on us?

Audio ecologist Gordon Hempton’s research into the last quiet spaces in the world.  The article is here:   http://www.newsweek.com/id/232668

What he has found is that there are very few places left in the United States (fewer than a dozen) that are free from mechanical/artificial noises for more than fifteen minutes at a time.  There are none left in Europe.

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