April 7, 2012

The Sounds of Silence

The April 2012 Canadian Geographic has this beautiful article about the Grasslands National Park, which the writer calls one of the world's last great quiet places. The article follows Gordon Hempton, a sound artist/acoustic ecologist, who was hired by Parks Canada and Tourism Saskatchewan to conduct a sound survey - the first of its kind in a Canadian national park.

Hempton is an American, and he looks for quiet places all over the world. His goal is to record 15 minutes of natural grassland silence without any manmade sounds - It seems such a modest goal! I read it twice to be sure I had read right. But it's a goal he has not been able to achieve in U.S. grasslands, with its network of highways and railways and the ever present jets overhead.

The article describes the grassland in glorious detail: it has 60 different kinds of grasses and many birds and animals whose early morning conversations Hempton records with his very high-end microphones at 3:30 a.m.

Grasslands is also an official dark-sky preserve, the biggest in Canada until Jasper National Park also gained dark sky status last year. The idea of quiet areas receiving a similar designation is just beginning to filter into the parks system. I love this concept. Sometimes when we go snowshoeing in Joe Rich it is quiet like that, but on the weekends there are often snowmobiles roaring all around - not that they don't also have a right to be there, but it makes for a completely different experience.