Moving into a new place on a main road has me thinking a lot about sound. This is more than mere pondering of things that suddenly go thump and bump in the night. (Who knew, by the way, that there are so many subwoofers in the trunks of U.S. cars?) It extends to the ambient, the noise that never goes away.
We suffer greatly at this offense in our modern times, whether from traffic, train, television or telephone. There always seems to be some form of drone, static or background noise- like tape hiss on the soundtracks of our lives.
It's all "noise pollution," to use a name that others have given it. If that name's trite, it's only because we've allowed noise pollution to become so ubiquitous.
At least this much seems obvious: Some form of noise pollution has entered most everyone's life. I'm willing to bet that you're blocking out some right now, employing a natural defense mechanism you didn't know you had. One can only wonder how much of our collective energy has been sapped this day, week and year in doing so.
You'd think that a disease so widely suffered would have more people looking for a cure. But a thing about which we're hearing way less frequently is a way to answer the assault, a strategy to turn down our collective volume.
So perhaps it was strange or perhaps is was fitting that I happened to be in a crowded, noisy restaurant a few weeks back when I heard the thoughts of a man who had used his power to change things.
The gentleman's name is Brian O'Neill, and he is the general superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which spans about 60 miles of California coastline and ages of its history. It was on this landscape, for example, that President Theodore Roosevelt created the Muir Woods National Monument in 1908, and here that the inmates of Alcatraz looked toward the mainland and lives left behind.
O'Neill explained how he has been working with his staff on a project to create "quiet zones" in this park, an effort that may someday be credited with equal historical significance. They are doing first-of-their-kind studies of man-made sound, with a goal of finding places where the noise of man can be limited, if not altogether eliminated.
This is no easy task in a place as populated as the San Francisco Bay area. But the testing found some promising areas, and when quiet zones were established in these various corners of the park, the reactions of guests were overwhelmingly positive.
O'Neill explained that they've really improved the user experience in the quiet zones, and that an extraordinary thing had happened there.
When they put up the signs announcing the zones, the park service personnel thought they were asking parents to keep their kids quiet. But they've found out the dynamic works in reverse. The kids are the first ones to abide the rules to be quiet, and they're the first ones to hush someone who doesn't.
"I'd hate to be those parents when their cell phones ring," O'Neill said.
His quip gave me hope. I enjoyed hearing that youngsters, notably those following my own technologically infatuated generation, can see the need to disconnect from the digital to reconnect with the natural. This is one of the first tales I've heard of an antidote to "Nature Deficit Disorder," the term coined by Richard Louv that identifies ongoing breakdown of the linkage between today's children and our natural resources.
The great thing about this antidote is not only that it's naturally occurring; it's also as organic as organic gets. We only need the places to sow the seeds.
Back in my own place, as I lie awake another night listening to the sound of rubber on road, I hope that I'll soon begin hearing about similar quiet zone experiments closer to home.