In the modern world, there are not many places where silence is a virtue. My quiet nature is often scrutinized in the workforce as a lack of presence. My theory is that the increasing rarity of silent moments has fostered the idea that silence represents uncomfortable absence. Yet, I take comfort in my nature, having visited places that mirror it, and reflecting that in quiet there is beauty and strength. The Bears Ears National Monument is one of those quiet places most cherished in my heart.
People who are for the reduction of the monument argue that the lines were drawn to be too large, hurting potential business and mining operations. The large parcel of land designated for protection was seen as wasted opportunity. Decreasing protection created opportunity for our economy, which gains through noise—from the blasting of rock to the consistent roar of engines. In this formula, noise represents progress and silence is a lack, but I argue that the quiet around Bears Ears is more precious than any modern commodity. Bears Ears already has a thriving economy which flourishes in silence.
This spring I joined a backpacking trip to Bears Ears. We walked along the roads, and as the cars passed by, I didn't envy the convenience of driving to every site. Instead I soaked up those moments in between their passing, where I could breathe the atmosphere of quiet that has surrounded the rocks for longer than our human existence. One evening I heard, for the first time, the fluttering of bat wings. Their chirps were barely louder than our breathing as they echolocated their prey in the unpolluted soundscape. I listened, while trying to permanently etch the shifting colors of the red rock during sunset into my memory.
There are other things in Bears Ears, besides the bats and me, that require quiet as a medium for survival. Ancestral Puebloan dwellings rest within the sandstone canyons as if their occupants could return in moments. They hold treasures that have survived the tendrils of destructive industries, protected from the modern world. The monument’s wealth of undisturbed pottery sherds and petroglyphs communicates through a medium of silence. Generations of handprints pressed against the rock walls are clear messages from the families who know this land as their home.
Achievements of modern architecture, forged with steel and industrial toil, have come and gone. Within the noise of these creations resides the human desire to build a lasting impact, yet their memories fade as they rust, break down, and are torn down to build the future. Delicately resting in the silence of Bears Ears, you can still see the fingerprints made in shaping the clay mortar that has upheld the Puebloan structures for hundreds of years. Powerful signifiers of human resilience, as they have withstood the passing of time outside of the roar of modern industries.
I cannot completely reject the noise economy, as I am a guilty consumer of its products. I can only advocate for more respect, understanding, and protection of quiet. Bears Ears holds magnificent examples of what can thrive in contrast to noise.
Jessica Sandrock grew up in Utah, hiking mountains and camping in national parks while becoming more aware of the fragile nature of the ecosystem and how our shared impact can encroach upon both human and non-human life everywhere. Jessica recently graduated from the University of Utah with her B.A. in English Literature. She hopes to continue learning, traveling, and contributing to the strong voices speaking for environmental justice. In her spare time, she loves to make art and sing along to classic soul music.