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The Search for Natural Silence

With more cars on roads and planes in the sky than ever before, finding truly noise-free places with pure natural sounds has become ever more challenging.
July 2, 2019, 1pm PDT | Camille Fink
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Scott Biales

Chris Morgan, host of the radio show The Wild, explores natural silence and the places where human-made noise is not present. He talked with Gordon Hempton, a self-described "sound tracker," and travels with Matt Mikkelson into the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington to find a place untouched by noise.

"Hempton and Mikkelson have rules for what qualifies a quiet place: free of noise pollution for 15 minutes in the time period between an hour before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Hempton said only about a dozen places in the lower 48 meet that standard," says Morgan. 

On the way to one of these spots, in the Hoh Rainforest, Mikkelson discusses the impact that noise has on wildlife, and Morgan notes that the hum from the park’s visitor center is still audible from half a mile away. Because the forest’s birds communicate on a variety of frequencies, such noise can interfere with an integral part of nature.

"As humans, we don’t really realize how sensitive animals are to noise pollution. And so we see that noise pollution impacts animals in some tangible and really scary ways ... We need to start realizing how noisy of a world we’ve created and really take steps to mitigate that and come to terms with that," says Mikkelson.

After they spend time at the site of a "square inch of silence" deep in the forest, Mikkelson notes that quiet and natural silence are important for humans, providing a sense of comfort and a space for reflection. “Like all of us, the silence of the wild is something perhaps we all need once in a while,” adds Morgan.

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Published on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 in KUOW (The Wild)
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