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Letters to the EditorPeace and quiet

Peace and quiet

Many fulfill their dream of escaping the hustle and bustle, the stresses, the smog, the noise pollution of urban life by seeking out rural sanctuaries where they can reconnect with nature. The last thing they want is to have the problems they escaped to follow them into the countryside. Some rural jurisdictions note this concern by having a statement of quiet and peace imbedded in their zoning policies.

Last week a couple applying for rezoning of their property argued that the adjoining highway had a decibel reading of 66 and their paintball operations a level of 52. So residents ought not be concerned as the proposed change would involve lower noise levels than already exist.

However this misses the mark. Peace and quiet has nothing to do with the absence of sound. Those seeking the tranquility of rural living are not seeking an experiment in sensory deprivation. Our peace would be just as shattered if a pesticide campaign silenced the voices of our frogs or a silent spring arrived with no song-birds. Recent studies confirm what we have already experienced for ourselves. We detect and process nature based sounds in a different way than we do man made sounds. Listen to the wind making music in the pines, the rhythmic music of a babbling brook, the distant hammering of a pileated woodpecker, the drumming of a ruffed grouse and you know these are the sounds of nature we crave. Yes some sounds kill and some sounds heal. We know the difference.

It has nothing to do with decibel levels. It has everything to do with the source. The haunting call of the loon can be heard a couple miles away, the same for the ancient sounding howl of the wolf pack (recorded at 115 decibels). Who is not stirred by such sounds or by the incessant call of the whippoorwill that I sometimes complained about when I wanted to sleep. Now that they are becoming scarce how I would be thrilled to hear them once again.

Who has not stopped in their tracks to listen to Canada geese leaving in the autumn or returning in the Spring. Do you know that the University of Waterloo recorded a reading of Canada geese in flight at 60 and 70 decibels? Do you know that the American bullfrog can produce 119 decibels, or that a clap of thunder can easily reach 120 decibels – a level public health experts classify, if sustained, as deafening?

We have all found ourselves compelled to sit on the porch mesmerized by the grand theatre of lighting and thunder. Would you ever say “Let’s sit outdoors and listen to the highway traffic or a paintball operation? The difference is that in today’s world we are starved for nature. We long for rootedness and natural connections. When we listen closely we discover that nature sounds rather more like a magnificent orchestra feeding our souls – it is the face of peace and quiet. Nature affirms our wholeness and inner personal well-being.

Wildlife has enough to contend with at the hands of Nature. To give just one example, since we are considering a wetland area, wind and humidity can silence frogs because their calls cannot reach their intended audience, other frogs. Frogs don’t need more man-made disturbances added on to the ones we can’t do anything about. Frankly neither do we!

Howard Clifford




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