Bayou-Diversity (15 April 2018) It is quiet here now on the edge of this swamp, quieter than it has been in many years. Perhaps the level of background noise approaches that when my father was a boy here 75 years ago. I live in the woods off of a rural parish road and almost two miles from a major highway. Even so, typically a steady barrage of traffic sounds – mainly from log trucks on the highway – filters through the trees to persist as an annoying backdrop. It is quiet now because the swamp is behaving as a swamp should behave and has flooded the parish road. Likewise, the flowing backwaters have eroded the foundation of a bridge on the highway, forcing its closure too and the re-routing of noisy traffic. The present lack of man-made noise is beyond noticeable; it’s striking. Visitors from town pick up on it right away. For some, it seems unsettling. Birdsong is louder with fresh clarity. Windsong animates treetops with sounds beyond those expected of the botanical.
In my dad’s childhood, traffic noise was an anomaly as vehicles on the sandy road were objects of curiosity that demanded inspection. Other loud, unnatural noises were seasonal and agrarian, such as the wheezing, pulmonary din of the small, steam-powered cotton gin that baled the community’s sweat and dreams. Across the road from my house a grown-up field sits atop a Pleistocene terrace that was inhabited by people 800 years before my great-grandfather cleared the site and planted cotton there. The acoustic environment of humans in this pre-historic culture we have labeled Coles Creek is easy to imagine but difficult to experience in today’s world – the absence of all sound other than natural noises. Even now in the relative quiet of my environment, I can hear a distant lawnmower at times or the muffled roar of an overhead jet. In the history of our species, unnatural mechanical noises are new phenomena. Research indicates they may not be in our best interest from physical and psychological perspectives.
Well into the last half of my seventh decade of exposure to aural salvos, I don’t hear very well any more, the result of too many youthful hours in close contact with heavy machinery and gunfire. In a noisy restaurant I am functionally deaf. I have accepted this sensory loss as it pertains to these situations. What I lament is the fact that never again will I hear the high-pitched, staccato trill of pine warblers on a spring morning. There is balm though in contemplating that the Coles Creek people may have died of old age with perfect hearing.