Photo by Jon Jay.
When I crawl into bed at night I hear absolutely nothing, or leastways, nothing human. Around my house the air hangs as quiet and still as freshly fallen snow. There’s no freeway roar. No garbled noise from a neighbor’s TV. No radios. No car engines. Not even conversations. At night, Yosemite is absolutely quiet. For someone like me, who craves silence the way some people crave chocolate, this feels like the ultimate indulgence.
Having a husband who loves the sounds of a city – for him it’s a kind of human lullaby – I understand that there are people who don’t love silence the way I do. They love the hustle and bustle. The comings and goings. The sense that life is going on around them at a furious pace. I thought I was one of those people. And, truth be told, for years I was. But during my final two years in Los Angeles, I would wake up every night to the roar of the freeway (which was more than two miles from our home) and know I had to leave the city. The noise was driving me away.
That I ended up somewhere so peaceful is mere happenstance. But as I’ve quieted down, I’ve noticed something strange. When people visit from the city they conduct their lives at a louder decibel level than those who live here year round.
This came as a shock. It never occurred to me that city dwellers are so surrounded by noise that they up their sound level just to compete. I’m sure it’s unconscious. But now that I live here, it’s startling to me. My findings are less than scientific, just my observations. But it makes me wonder. What did the world sound like before there was man? How noisy were cities 100, 500, 3000 years ago?
Photo by Jon Jay.
As a child I was fascinated with the image of Indians walking through forests, one foot in front of another, so quiet they could track a deer without being heard. Now I wonder if it went beyond their prowess at hunting. As people who lived in nature, did they have an aptitude for quiet?
One of the groups of people on the government payroll in a national park are those in charge of sound control. They monitor the human noise level and, if it gets too loud, remind us to keep it down. They do this as much for the animals as for the visitors. Turns out that one of the ways you protect wildlife is to keep the lid on the sounds produced by humans.
If that’s what it takes to keep Yosemite quiet, I say thank you to every deer, bear, mountain lion and fox living in the park. Because of you my nights are filled with silence, broken only by the occasional yipping and howling of a coyote pack on its nighttime rounds, waking me to marvel at its magic and the peacefulness of life away from the freeway’s roar.
Last May, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city.