Sound — or the lack thereof — speaks volumes to local filmmaker, author and photographer

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The tranquility of the starry sky below Colorado’s 14,000-foot summit creates a reflexive contemplation in the photographs of the book “Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the Quiet Places in the World.”
Pete McBride / Courtesy Image

The new book “Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places” by local filmmaker, writer and photographer Pete McBride is a natural and wild space defined by sound as much as visual. Meditation about how.

The book was published in September with dozens of photographs never seen before from his assignment to a national magazine across seven continents, when he and Kevin Fedalco hiked the Grand Canyon. Describes the Epiphany McBride that I experienced in. In the 750-mile trek, which was completed in 2016, the silence of nature was so deep that I could hear the flapping of the bat wing. “The least rated and most difficult to document wonder is not the breathtaking scenery chasing after the camera, but the gentle blankets that surround them,” McBride wrote in the preface of the book.

As they settled on walking for hours at a time without saying a word, they also found that they were more in harmony with the landscape that evolved into survival techniques. In this month’s interview, McBride and Fedalco produced award-winning books and movies, but listen to extending the lifespan of insects as they show that there may be water nearby. He said he learned.

The Grand Canyon hike, which documented the heightened threat to the sacredness of the Canyon, solidified the idea of ​​a book that will be the subject of a presentation by McBride on Sunday at the Wheeler Opera House in collaboration with the Aspen Environmental Research Center. (Aspen Journalism is an event sponsor and McBride is an officer of Aspen Journalism.)

However, the seeds of the project sprouted during a trip to the Colorado River Delta region in 2009 and 2014. This is the same lesser-known river stream that forms the Grand Canyon and has Aspen at its source.

On a 2009 trip, McBride witnessed how the river died in wetland mud about 100 miles from the Gulf of California due to overallocation. He traveled the length of the waterway from just before the first dry to the previous Delta, mostly on foot. The river channel was replenished by a tributary stream of about 60 miles, but the moist area disappeared again about 30 miles from the sea. McBride estimates that he was able to use the paddleboard for a total of eight miles of the last 100 miles of the river’s natural waterways. He said he had no quiet waterside life on the trip and was eerie.

“You will sleep, and all you hear is a howling dog pack and a distant drone in the car,” McBride said.

“Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places” was published in September. Pete McBride will give a presentation on the project at the Wheeler Opera House on December 19th.
Courtesy image

In 2014, the “pulse flow” of water was adjusted to flow through the waterways so that the river could reach the sea temporarily. McBride was able to come back and remind him of the length he was walking before.

“It turned from this dead, completely empty landscape to a symphony of wild sounds,” he said, explaining the jarring juxtaposition with Soundscape on his 2009 trip. “Clearly looking at the water … and floating (was powerful) the river I was walking in first, but the experience I heard was more powerful.”

Escape of humanity

As cataloged by the “acoustic ecologist” cited in this book, there are three types of sounds in this world. Geophony (formed by wind and water), biophony (sung by living things), and anthropology (from humans and our creations).

Dedicated practice looking for the first two will help you understand how difficult it is to escape the latter.

In 1984, Gordon Hampton, a natural sound expert quoted in McBride’s book, identified 21 places in Washington where you could experience the silence of nature at intervals of more than 15 minutes. When he revisited those places in 2007, he noticed that only three were still eligible.

A photo of the book “Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places” combined with a photo of four hours of jet traffic passing through Maroon Bells.
Pete McBride / Courtesy Image

McBride said it’s difficult to notch for more than a few minutes in the silence of nature, even in the wilderness of Aspen’s backyard. The main cause is air traffic. He described the climb of the North Maroon Peak this summer when he and his brother John were timing the silence of nature — and they couldn’t pass three or four minutes without hearing a jet. was. He added that he could hear the plane take off from Aspen Airport from the rugged shelves at the peak.

One thing that humans suffer from our own ergonomics is that the hustle and bustle can be fatal to species that rely on sound for their own survival. For example, whales can use sound to make long-distance communications, but shipping traffic disconnects those lines. And McBride notes that the frogs squeal all at once, making it difficult for predators to pinpoint a particular location for the creature. Large jets flying overhead scare them, calm blankets of sound and make them more vulnerable.

“This book is a reminder. It’s not just an escape to a beautiful place, it’s just a postcard book. It’s a reminder to think about the impact at another level,” McBride said.

Humans are accustomed to thinking about changes in land use and pollution that chokes the atmosphere, but we need to pay more attention to the patterns of sounds we produce and the sounds of nature we change.

Ski touring the Swiss Alps auto route with photos from the book “Seeing the Silence: The Beauty of the Quiet Places in the World”.
Pete McBride / Courtesy Image

At the Sunday event in Wheeler, attendees must be masked and arrive with evidence of vaccination or a negative COVID test conducted within 72 hours. McBride shares book slides and talks about some of his experiences, including swimming. With the Orca in the fjords of Norway, walking along the Amazon River in the jungle of Peru, setting up a crevasse crossing ladder for Everest climbers and deciding where to put the ropeline with the “Icefall Doctor” Get acquainted.

The presentation at Aspen will be a hospitality for McBride, who travels a long way to give a similar talk. He said he was trapped in the power of the concept of silence across cultural boundaries. It is more relevant than other environmental topics that tend to be politically criticized, as almost everyone experiences somehow the soothing nature of peace and tranquility. But McBride said he hopes that opening that door will lead to more conversations about conservation, climate and environmental impacts.

“Thanks to what I’m doing, I was fortunate to be forced into these places, and all the other languages ​​defined by the natural sounds we had somewhat forgotten are underway. I learned that, “he said.

Aspen Journalism works with Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers to cover the environment. For more information, please visit

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