Noise isn’t something many of us think actively about until it interrupts our routine somehow, such as when a car alarm wakes us from a sound sleep, or hours of persistent cacophony from construction work makes it hard for us to concentrate or relax. We simply take a certain level of noise for granted as one of the unavoidable pitfalls of civilization, and assume it’s a largely harmless phenomenon.

This attitude may be short-sighted, however. We have not evolved to tolerate the elevated levels of noise we are currently being exposed to, and noise can and does impact human health. Most people are not aware of this, but noise can actually kill a human being. Sounds above 85 decibels tend to cause hearing loss in humans and immediate pain is generally caused by 110-130 decibels, with anything over that running the chance of being fatal. (And if you think it’s rare to find something that dangerously loud, it’s not; speakers used at rock concerts often generate around 135 decibels of noise, and if you stand directly next to a large firework, you could risk your life thanks to their staggering output of 145 decibels.)

Any remedy at your fingertips

Any remedy at your fingertips?
Photo by Craig Sunter

Even if you know to avoid getting too close to the speakers at concerts and practice safety measures around fireworks, gunshots, etc., you are still not safe from the effects of noise. “Normal” noise levels in many workplaces (and residences close to highways, wind turbines, and heavy industry) can lead to hearing impairment, tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears), hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and sleep disturbance (likely owing to an elevated level of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can dampen or delay the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin).

Noise has also been blamed for increased hostility, antisocial behaviors, and accident rates within the workplace, along with hearing loss in the elderly, which may be less endemic to aging than we previously believed. Even deep changes within the body, such as alterations in the function of the immune system and birth defects have been attributed to chronic noise exposure.

Serene landscapes waiting for you

Serene landscapes around the corner.
Photo by Wolfgang Moritzer

Are there any truly quiet places left on Earth?

After reading the above, a noise-free vacation may well be on your mind. But, are there any truly quiet places left, outside of inhospitably remote locales like the Antarctic or high in the Himalayas?

Yes, thankfully there are, even in North America. The Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada, has been called one of the last great quiet places, and is known for its serene landscapes, including prairies, valleys, badlands, and buttes. The Muir Woods in California are also wonderfully quiet, and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada is reportedly so hushed that one can hear the wings of birds flapping as they fly by. There are other parks, such as the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and Marconi Beach in Massachusetts, that also have a great reputation for being free of noise pollution.

As silence is “the think tank of the soul,” you never know what you may discover about yourself when you clear the clutter of background noise from your mind and embrace the peace of the deep woods, seashore, or gently waving grasslands.