Just when you thought you’d heard everything

Before diving into the earth-shaking topic of noise pollution, it’d be only right to mention some of my lesser-known weaknesses:

■ Our family dog used to jump into the shower with me whenever the hot water steam set off a smoke alarm, triggering a mechanical scream that made him whine and me laugh.

■ I honestly wish my cell had a Harley-Davidson engine ringtone doing its potato-potato-potato crescendo because I can’t afford an actual motorcycle.

■ When a train whistle wakes me in the middle of night, it makes me want to grab my rucksack and jump a freight for destinations unknown.

■ The only way to appreciate Led Zeppelin is cranked all the way up.

Some say silence is golden, that when city-dwellers head for the country, it’s usually to find peace and quiet. Exhibit A: Our parks draw gigantic crowds every summer. But if you’ve ever visited Rocky Mountain National Park, your hunt for the elusive peace and quiet took work. You must do some serious hiking just to distance yourself from all the noisy traffic on Trail Ridge Road.

We humans face an ethical dilemma in this regard. How can we enjoy so-called wilderness when our only method of getting there is motorized? I don’t have a great answer and am somewhat troubled by the impact of noise pollution, including my own, on all living things.

Years ago, I worked in Rocky Mountain National Park and drove Trail Ridge Road twice a day, five days a week. My contribution to the very noise pollution that visitors hope to avoid was significant.

On my days off in Rocky, it took many miles on foot to find nothing louder than a babbling brook. Not everyone is physically capable of long hikes, so where might those folks go to hear a babbling brook? The Nature Channel just isn’t the same.

Animals need quiet, too.

Take the western scrub jay. This foot-long, blue-winged, white-breasted character picks up thousands of pinon pine tree seeds and then buries them as a ready food source in winter. Fortunately, the bird can’t remember where it hid every last seed. As a result, scrub jays unintentionally plant our next generation of trees everywhere.

Well, not everywhere. New research suggests scrub jays avoid noisy areas like the plague.

A recent issue of Discovery News reported New Mexico scientists scattered 20 seeds under each of 12 pinon pines, six in quiet spots and six in loud areas near natural gas wells. Based on images from motion-triggered cameras, the jays only visited quiet spots, leaving mice to devour seeds from noisy areas near gas wells. Results indicate noise interferes with the ability of pinon pines to survive from generation to generation. 

At Colorado National Monument, where pinon pines dominate the landscape thanks to scrub jays, you can hike for miles without hearing anything louder than your own boots grinding sandy trails. It’s so peaceful that the sudden scream of a raven can knock your socks off.

Last spring, a loud noise jolted me out of my reverie while hiking Upper Monument Canyon. What at first sounded like big, fat, snow tires whining on dry pavement turned out to be a herd of honeybees. No mere swarm could create such a loud cacophony.

They soared maybe 20 yards overhead. It was magnificent, a moment you don’t forget. Watching hundreds of bees, floating like an amorphous balloon up toward Rim Rock Drive, I felt a reverence for the simple things in life.

Their buzzing was soon drowned out by, what else, the potato-potato-potato of a Harley.

It was good while it lasted.

Sandstrom works as a seasonal park ranger at Colorado National Monument and teaches at Colorado Mesa University. If you have a pretty darned good story to share about the Monument, contact him at 970-248-1570 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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