Large wildfires are once again uncontrollably threatening much of the intermountain west in North America. Just 5 miles/ 8 km from the oncoming edge of the Cub Creek fire here in Washington is one of my most favorite places to record anywhere. Thirtymile Meadows is one of the very few places I know of in the continuous 48 United States that is neither rainforest nor remote island where I can set up my microphones, press record, and expect a soundscape free of human-generated noise for at least 4 hours to be the result. Sometimes it can be up to nearly a day. There are plenty of places I can get away from ground-based vehicles, but Thirtymile has the magic of not being under continually active flight paths. No vehicles. No aircraft. Nothing but birds, coyotes, and me.
This was a little more than a month ago, the morning of Summer Solstice. It’s merely an excerpt.
Just a few miles away and a little farther up the mountains from Thirtymile Meadows can be found Long Swamp, a very large, highly biodiverse wetland complex. Like the wet meadows, swamps in this area form through the collection of meltwater of the preceding winter. Unlike the shallow bowls of the meadows, though, the swamps form in the shallow creased valleys between rising prominences. Sometimes the water drains away into a creek at the end of the of the valley, but they are just as likely to simply seep slowly into the topsoil to re-appear elsewhere as a natural spring. Long Swamp does both.
Sinlahekin Valley is the heart of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, a large unit managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. A mixture of ranch land, managed big-game area, protected wildlife refuge, and dedicated recreation area, Sinlahekin is a beautiful, bio-diverse and extremely habitat diverse region protected from human over-run more from remoteness than anything else.
Okay, we’re now at mid-March, 2017. A year ago this month we were in the midst of Kickstartingthis project. How have we done? What are the hits and misses, successes and failures we’ve had along the way?
NWS03: Colockum Wildlife Area, July 05-09, 2016
I hadn’t originally intended to stop in the Colockum Wildlife Area. In fact, it was a last minute decision made at a pit stop for gas. My original destination had been the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge before continuing on to pick up my daughter from a camp in Central Oregon. I’m glad I stopped and made the decision to stay instead of continuing as it turns out the main accessible areas of Toppenish are flooded with anthropogenic noise, mainly from the the busy highway that connects to the main entrance. While it would have helped illustrate the problems with the invasion of human-caused noise pollution, it would have been a miserable and likely wasted trip.
Here we are, at the beginning of November, 2016, at the half-way mark for The Northwest Soundscapes Project. How have we done? What are the hits and misses, successes and failures we’ve had along the way?
NWS02: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, June 09-12, 2016
The second trip of this project was to the Columbia Wildlife Refuge from June 9-12. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was certainly not prepared for the stunning natural beauty of this location. Located in the the Channeled Scablands of the Northwest, the land around this area was carved out dramatically and violently during a series of ice age deluges. The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up the Glacial Lake Missoula, which periodically broke free and scoured the land here free of soil and most life. Giant pot-hole-like formations called coulees show testimony to the power of the drainage, and to this day provide quiet refuge to animals such as birds, rabbits, and coyotes, as well as providing a rainwater collection point for marshy reeds to grow.