By Kevin Pollack, federal legislative associate with Environment America
Attending college in a big city conditioned my ears to a level of volume to which they had previously not adapted: harsh construction taking place down the block, booming ambulances whizzing by my house, boisterous children screaming during recess at the elementary school across the street.
I often began each day by waking up a little too early from one of these sounds, and though I shoved pillows on top of my ears to make the noise go away, it never did.
Not only did I yearn for peace and quiet, I forgot almost entirely what the absence of persistent sound felt like. I carved short blocks out of my days to meditate quietly, and I occasionally obtained seconds of pure, soundless bliss — only to hear a muscle car roar by my front door or one of my roommates set off the fire alarm with his cooking. (Josh, if you’re reading this, I still don’t understand how you did that so often.) In a cat-and-mouse game, silence evaded me, and this constant onslaught of noise made me tired and overwhelmed.
It was not until a summer trip to California that I was reacquainted with silence.
On a road trip spanning the state, my friends and I visited San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and more, but I also left ample time for the outdoors. At the top of my list was Joshua Tree National Park.
I was already enamored by Joshua Tree — especially its sweeping rock formations and its distinctive yucca palm “Joshua” trees. I knew we’d see amazing sights, but I was not prepared for what we’d hear.
After a long day of hikes and sightseeing, my friends and I lugged our things back to Twentynine Palms, the small town neighboring the park. While my friends napped inside the small house we rented, I sat on a hammock outside, ready to devour my copy of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. I removed my bookmark and began to read, but suddenly stopped.
Complete, utter silence.
I carefully, silently put my book on the ground and stared out to the vast expanse of desert, desert, desert.
Absolutely nothing, as far as the eye could see.
And I couldn’t have thought of anything better than that.