Thursday, January 11, 2018
The Bluebird of PTSD?
When we visited Iceland two Septembers ago it was amazingly busy, even though we were supposedly there in a shoulder season. We would arrive at places of astonishing beauty to find ourselves in the midst of throngs of visitors from around the world. We quickly figured out to find solitude, rising early and asking locals where we could go "off the beaten path" in a country which was until recently literally at the end of the world.
You might recall me writing about a glacial pond we visited one evening which was so far along what felt like a sheep path we pondered turning back. When we eventually arrived there were two other vehicles and no visible humans. It was chilly and overcast and profoundly beautiful. I was moved almost to tears by the surroundings and the "sound of sheer silence" to quote from the biblical story of Elijah in the wilderness.
Creatures need solitude and silence and it is disappearing in virtually every environment. A study of bluebirds nesting near noisy natural gas compressors in the wilds of New Mexico found that there were high levels of stress hormones in their blood (who does this research?) akin to levels in humans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So much for the bluebird of happiness. This is how the Washington Post reports this:
Scientists couldn't ask the bluebird what she was feeling. But when they sampled the bird's blood, as part of a study of 240 nesting sites surrounding natural gas treatment facilities in northern New Mexico, they found she showed the same physiological symptoms as a human suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Noise is causing birds to be in a situation where they're chronically stressed . . . and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring,” said Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
We spent a month on a relatively remote island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland last summer and while outport life carries on in what is the busiest time of the year we were struck by the general low level of ambient noise in that environment, even in and around our rental house on the main road. When we returned to suburban Ontario we were aware of our societal addiction to noise, everything from machines for virtually every daily task to back-up vehicle beepers to car alarms to train whistles. It brought to mind the once again the title of Garret Keizer's book The Unwanted Sound of Everything we Want.
This sort of research reminds us that noise is a physiological issue. I would also suggest that it is a spiritual issue and that we can only attend to the holy and the presence of God when there is some sonic space in our lives. Sometimes I despair of establishing that room as I seek solitude, but I won't give up.