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Enjoy the silence

April 4, 2015

sbnm silenceThe other day, I was taking a walk up Scotts Bluff National Monument, and I experienced one of the occasional, extraordinary moments of silence one can encounter out here on the High Plains.

The wind had stopped, stilling the constant motion of the grasses. No birds sang in that moment. No voices rang out. I could hear no traffic, no airplanes, no machinery.

It’s a very peculiar feeling to be outdoors and surrounded by compete silence. It’s almost as though the Earth has begun swallowing all sounds, jealously absorbing the vibrations from my ears. The silence becomes a presence.

For me, it’s a spiritual experience. When faced with utter quiet, I can start to hear the still, small voices it’s all too easy to drown out in modern-day busyness.

I thought of these cherished moments of silence when I saw this map, which was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February. It was created by the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service. (I had no idea such an entity existed!)

150216-noise_0622150367affea5ca3ca361d54b523aOut on the High Plains, you can see the noisy yellow blotch of the Denver / Front Range area, and to the north of that, the soothing blue of some of the quietest areas in the United States, including western Nebraska. Another yellow blotch in the middle of quiet blue is to the west of Denver – Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bugman and I were recently in Salt Lake City, and had the chance to go hiking in the mountainous terrain surrounding the city. Out on the trails in the parks, we could still clearly hear the traffic from the Salt Lake City conurbation. Similarly, when we’d been hiking upslope of Boulder, Colorado, a few years ago, the sound of traffic far below was clearly audible. Yes, the mountains are beautiful, and there are many more economic opportunities in the Big City, but there is a tradeoff. In moving to a popular place, you lose natural stillness.

There’s definitely an experience to be had out here in western Nebraska that Front-Rangers and big city folks just can’t get anywhere else: outdoor silence. (I’m sure Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to our north has silence in spades as well.)

PS – this is a great piece to add to the Find Your Park campaign. In my park, I find silence!

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