Enjoy the Silence

By Darren

Jackson Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?

T.E. Lawrence: It’s clean.

—Lawrence of Arabia

For T.E. Lawrence (or for Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence, at least), the desert was “clean.” For me, it’s quiet.

I have a raging hatred for noise, especially noise that I can’t do anything about. Car alarms, smoke detectors that chirp for months before someone notices and replaces the batteries, yappy dogs, crying babies, loud TVs, basically any music that I’m not playing on my stereo – all of it makes me stabby.

But in the desert, there’s nothing. Beyond the sound of the wind gently rippling your tent’s rainfly and your own breath, it’s total silence. It is bliss, and it is one of the main reasons that desert camping may be my favorite type of camping.

So while I appreciate The New York Times running a piece today about a father and daughter discovering the joys of camping in and around Joshua Tree, I take issue with its writer encouraging his daughter to scream her lungs out in the park because, hey, why not?

The next morning, we ventured back into Joshua Tree. It was hot, but a gray sky had muted the park’s colors — pale greens and browns. Cora and I had one last item on our agenda before returning to civilization. Near an area called Porcupine Wash we pulled over and dashed out among the shrubs and smoke trees.

The thing about screaming as loud as you can is, it’s sort of deep — the thrill of testing your full caliber, the jarring feeling of nobody responding. Cora let loose atop a spine of granite facing a wide expanse of desert floor.

Oh, trust me, Chris. People are responding. You’re just making too much noise to notice. If people aren’t muttering a “Shut up, jerkface” as they try to enjoy their morning coffee around their campsite, they’re looking through their supplies for the Coleman hatchet.

Look, I know this is getting very close to “Get off my lawn, you damn kids” territory, but the national parks are supposed to be about getting away from it all, for communing with nature, for a solitude that you can’t experience anywhere else.

For me, this guy is an especially loathsome type of park visitor, the one who not only ruins it for everyone by engaging in decidedly un-national park-like behavior, he’s teaching his children that it’s okay. Someday, little Cora will be all grown up, and she too will stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or the base of Devils Tower and say to her own child, “Teddy Roosevelt gave us this beautiful gift. So go ahead, honey. Test your full caliber by shouting yourself hoarse because Grandpa Colin taught me that this is what this place is for.”


It’s an otherwise fine piece (click the image below to go to the article).

Oh, and PS: I’d never camp anywhere near the Salton Sea.