For the week of June 30, 1999  thru July 6, 1999  

The vanishing quiet

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Not so fast: maybe the snickers about one of Al Gore’s early campaign themes – that urbanites waste their lives tied up in traffic -- are off-key.

Maybe Gore is onto something: Americans everywhere are fed up with the painful costs of growth, big city traffic high on the list.

Even in Arizona, that hot bed of gung-ho growth and unbridled real estate development, 73 percent of the adult residents in a recent poll said they want growth limits. One of metro Phoenix’s fastest growing communities, farmland-turned-suburb Gilbert, even declared a moratorium on construction so city services could catch up.

The new, popular buzz phrase from coast-to-coast in big cities and small towns alike is "smart growth" – that is, control growth, not simply allow laissez fair to prevail.

So, folks in the Wood River Valley who expect political leaders to stand up to those who’d gobble up land and transform it into canyons of new structures aren’t alone in this new mentality.

But there’s more to "smart growth" initiatives than the fear of losing the physical environment.

People also are watching their peace and quiet vanish.

Consider the quest of Gordon Hempton, of Port Angeles, Wash., a professional sound tracker, who searches the far reaches of the globe for quiet with a tape recorder.

Hempton dreams of discovering places with 15 minutes of uninterrupted peace and quiet, which are become scarcer.

His favorite tape recording for illustrating the disappearance of solitude was made in a remote spot in the Florida Everglades, as he was taping a meadowlark in the vast wilderness.

"Thirty seconds into the recording," Hempton recalled to Associated Press reporter David Foster, "sure enough, the roar of a jet engine came in (overhead)."

Someone should invite Hempton to our Adams Gulch, which may qualify as one of the few remaining spots where peace and quiet can be found – most of the time.

In the early mornings, one can spend hours without noisy interruptions – the only sounds being songbirds, the steady and hypnotic gentle rush of water in the streams, and occasionally a human voice in the distance calling to a wandering dog.

Afternoons, alas, are different – when bikers, for example, will let out a silence-shattering "yee-ha!" as they hit pell-mell speeds down dirt trails. And sometimes, perhaps the roar of a jet passing overhead at 30,000-plus feet can be heard.

Hempton’s measure – 15 minutes of uninterrupted peace and quiet – is a useful test of whether the Wood River Valley is maintaining tranquility.

When peace and quiet vanish, then we’ve become little more than another of those communities that allowed the bulldozers of growth to run over our quality of life.


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