Coffee in Traffic

Have you ever noticed how loud traffic is? I mean residential traffic, downtown traffic, commuter traffic. Highway traffic is loud, but I don’t care at that point. Once on the highway I’m driving to a destination, and at 75 mph I’m rarely focused on the natural environment around me. But I was just sitting outside a coffee shop on the downtown mainstreet, and I was struck by how loud the traffic was. So loud that I couldn’t imagine what it would have sounded like without the cars driving by: would I hear conversations from across the street? The breeze tossing a bit of litter? The footfalls of people walking past? Do you imagine things like this?

Did you know that our friends at EPA deem noise a pollutant? I agree with them. The seeking and achieving of solitude is difficult in the absence of natural quiet. Unfortunately, there is little natural quiet left in our world. One must travel far into the depths of wild areas or remote lands to find it. Even then, the quiet may be broken by the occassional airplane travelling 30,000 feet above you. Sound travels fantastic distances, so remoteness is no guarantee of quiet. I worked once on a project that recorded acoustic samples in a remote park setting, and we were astonished at the levels of sounds coming from vehicles, specifically off-road vehicles like ATVs. We found that nearly 5 miles from the nearest road we could still detect the sounds of traffic. The National Park Service now studies natural soundscapes as part of its mission, and works to preserve natural quiet in national parks when possible.

It’s not something I bemoan, this loss of quiet. But I am aware of it. I think we take for granted the things we have as much as the things we have lost, like quiet, and darkness, and unobstructed views (powerlines anyone?). What is it that we are missing? What else are we missing that we have long forgotten? It all seems a silly, trivial thing to worry about with all the bigger problems in the world. But that doesn’ t mean we shouldn’t be aware, cognizant, of the loss.

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