Posts Tagged ‘Ode magazine’

The roads traveled are two-way streets

April 27, 2009

I wrote the essay below for a special travel section in the April issue of Ode MagazineIt’s on their website as well.  If you don’t know Ode, I suggest you check it out. It’s at a magazine stand near you. (Borders, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, etc. Or better yet, buy a subscription and keep Ode alive.  Its tagline is: For Intelligent Optimists. Hey, that’s me! And I’m guessing you, too.

This farmer in Lombok, Indonesia plows with an ox-plow

Farmer on Lombok Island, Indonesia, plows his fields the traditional way

The Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. The Taj Mahal. Only 20 years ago, these were the notches on the traveler’s money belt, which, incidentally, was stuffed with travelers’ cheques. Today we’ve been there, done that. Affordable airfare and Western wealth (yes, we’re still comparatively wealthy even now, in the midst of the credit crunch) have brought travelers to every corner of the globe. We hop on transcontinental flights armed with our debit cards, functional in cash-dispensing machines from Dubai to Denali.

But simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. We want to stray from those beaten paths, dig deeper, get a read on how the locals live, work and play. This can include eating at a restaurant favored by residents instead of Westerners, participating in an outdoor adventure or visiting sites not found in most guidebooks. In industry jargon, it’s called “experiential travel”-travel we live through instead of look at-and it’s never been more popular. It’s popular because it’s typically cheaper than traditional travel; money is tight but we still want to go on vacation, some of us to faraway places. And it’s popular because we want to tread more lightly during our trips, in terms of our impact on the environment and on the people we visit. We want to give something back.

The desire to experience a different culture through activities and people goes deeper than adding another notch to the money belt, though that plays a role, too. It’s as basic as life. It’s our fellow human beings who transcend us. At the end of the day, we recall the burka-clad woman on the train reciting prayers as much as we do the centuries-old treasures in the museum.

A polar-bear-shaped license plate from Northwest Territories

Diane's much-coveted gift from locals in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada

When I think back to one of my life’s highlights-seeing the northern lights in the Northwest Territories, Canada, during 2002-I also relive the hospitality of the citizens of tiny Fort Smith, who cooked for me, took me dog sledding and gave me a polar-bear-shaped license plate that hangs in my house today. The most lasting impression of my 11-week backpacking trip to Europe in 1982 is my still-enduring friendship with Federico, who lives in Vicenza, Italy. In my home state of North Carolina, as I travel to research a farm-travel guidebook, the farmers stand out as much as their bounties or the sweeping rural landscapes.

Diane (left) met Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s

Diane and Federico Lauro in Vicenza, Italy, in 1986. And, yes, they're still in touch.

My reaction is hardly unique. While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling of my own, I’ve also interviewed hundreds of people over the past eight years for a column I write for The Boston Globe called “Where They Went,”  about other people’s trips. Without fail, these travelers will recount adventures, sights, tastes, but almost always add: “The people were the best part. They were so nice, so warm, so welcoming.” Those people’s stories are the ones they recount to me again and again, especially if they were allowed a look inside a community or a family.

These days, even the most mainstream tour operators include experiential travel on an otherwise-standard tour. For example, in the 2009 Grand Circle Travel land and cruise tour “China and the Yangtze River,” participants will not only visit the Great Wall, Beijing and Hong Kong; they’ll tour a kindergarten or senior center and have a home-hosted lunch. “You’ll see local customs enacted first-hand as your gracious hosts prepare and serve a typical Chinese meal,” the itinerary reads. For the traveler wanting a less-staged version of hospitality and sightseeing, many cities have forms of community-based or locally led tourism, which originates with citizens instead of national or international tour operators.

A local guide prepares a meal for a 2-day hiking trek on Lombok

One of our local guides prepares an Indonesian meal during a hiking trek up Mount Rinjani (12,224 ft.) on Lombok.

Digging deeper also requires that we set aside our demands for a money-back-guaranteed quality and “safe” experience. That can be instructive in itself. I recall a community-based “ecotourism” hiking trek my husband and I chose on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The guides lit our campfires with the help of splashes of gasoline from the jugs they carried and they littered along the way. I later reported these issues to the organizer, who lived in the capital of Mataram, miles and worlds away. He was extremely apologetic, as he’d been trying to get the villagers to understand tourism basics. On the other hand, I saw the real way of life there. It was worth the trade-off. And I was much happier to donate money to people in the village than to an international travel outfitter.

These school children on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

Schoolchildren in a tiny village on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

After hearing me speak about the virtues of getting off the tour bus, one African safari tour operator told me proudly how at the end of his luxury lodge-hopping trip in Tanzania, he takes his clients into the city of Arusha to visit poor neighborhoods and give trinkets to the local children. “Everyone came away deeply moved,” he said. “The crazy thing was, after seeing all that big game, what I heard from them was it was the most memorable part of the trip.” I suggested he consider moving the outing to the beginning of the tour, so it would be on their minds as they met Tanzanian workers along the way. “Oh no, that would be too much for them,” he said.

Perhaps our challenge as citizens of the world is to decide how much is enough-and then go soak it in. Even if the recession has wiped out a quarter or more of our wealth, we’re still rich by global standards. Experiencing how other people live, whether in Appalachia or Addis Ababa, will make us even richer. And likely them, too.

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‘One Square Inch’ speaks loud and clear

April 8, 2009
Gordon measures the sound level after an airplane flies over

Gordon Hempton measures airplane noise during a hike through the Hoh Rain Forest

It’s next to impossible to get away from the sounds of our human activities, most of them now mechanized. We hear way more than we used to. Airplanes, leaf blowers, air conditioners, car traffic, humming refrigerators, cell phones, televisions. Many if not most  people aren’t even aware of the audio assault they face every day.

One Square Inch book cover

One Square Inch book cover

Can you think of a time you were in a quiet, really quiet, spot? Was it memorable? One of the quietest places I’ve been was just outside of a small village in the mountains on Crete, in 1986. Even then, there was some airplane traffic, but not much. I vividly recall that spot and others in North America and beyond where natural sounds reign. I seek them out and savor them because they are so rare.

“Audio ecologist” Gordon Hempton, with journalist John Grossmann, has just published “One Square Inch: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World,” a powerful treatise on our country’s vanishing supply of silence. The book was prompted by Gordon’s “One Square Inch of Silence” project in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state.

Gordon Hempton in his Volkwagen Bus

Gordon in his 1964 Volkswagen Bus

I wrote a profile about Gordon last year for the July/August 2008 issue of Ode Magazine. The entire issue was about silence. Wessel and I spent two days and a night with Gordon, camping at the Hoh in his 1964 Volkswagen Bus and later going to Rialto Beach, also part of the national park.

The Jar of Quiet Thoughts

The Jar of Quiet Thoughts

Gordon’s literal square inch of silence is a few feet off the Hoh River Trail. It’s marked with a small reddish rock and a “Jar of Quiet Thoughts” – visitors’ musings on what Gordon has declared to be “the quietest place in the United States.”

An inch of silence can travel far, Gordon says. “If noise can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles. When you defend one square inch, in today’s world you help manage, to some degree, thousands of miles.”

Part of the book is a presentation of the one-square-inch theory, especially in relation to the ever-weakening National Park Service regulations. Like, for instance, those blasted helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon.

In the other section, Gordon relays lovely tales from people he met during a cross-country drive in the summer of 2007 “to take the sonic pulse of America.” In the slow-moving van, Gordon drove from his home in Joyce, Wash., to Washington, DC, talking to experts and regular folks about silence along the way and meeting government officials and legislators along the way.

This row of trees in Hoh Rain Forest once strarted as seedlings on a nursing log

This row of trees in Hoh Rain Forest once started as seedlings on a nursing log

If you get the chance, check out Gordon at one of his upcoming readings, from April 14-26, in Seattle, Portland, Sebastopol, Calif., and, finally, to the noisiest place in the country, New York City.

If you’d rather hear natural sounds in the privacy of your own home, Gordon’s book comes packaged with an audio CD of recordings from his cross-country trip, along with gorgeous photos of his favorite landscapes along the way.

Where silence is seen and heard

July 22, 2008

Below is a profile I wrote about Gordon Hempton, the creator of One Square Inch of Silence in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state.  It appears in the July/August of Ode Magazine, with photos by Wessel. The entire issue  is dedicated to silence and is well worth a read.

By Diane Daniel

Surrounded by towering Sitka spruce trees dripping with rain and bearded lichen, Gordon Hempton comes to a sudden halt, mud oozing out from the bottom of his tall rubber boots. He raises his right hand, points a gloved finger toward the gray sky and squints in the universal sign for “Listen!”

Gordon points up to listen

Gordon Hempton (left) points up to listen while Diane takes notes (Click to ENLARGE)

Hearing the chirp of a bird in the distance, I expect our unofficial park guide to identify another animal resident here in Olympic National Park, as he had earlier with the call of a Roosevelt elk.

“An intruder,” he whispers in a serious tone.

Gordon holds his sound meter

Gordon holds his sound meter

As Hempton whips out a hand-held sound meter from his bike messenger bag, I realize it’s not a birdsong but the drone of an airplane in the far distance that has brought him to attention.

“1:19,” he notes in an official voice, reporting the time while opening up the instrument that charts noise level on the decibel A scale, the easiest way to measure the weight of sound.

“Overpass duration: two minutes. 51 dBA, with a base of 42. That base is from birdsong and the river in the distance.”

The intrusion, he reports, is twice as loud as the natural sound, based on the logarithmic formula of decibels.

“I’m not going to do anything about it because it’s not in One Square Inch,” he adds.

Hempton is referring to our destination and his mission, a tiny spot in northwest Washington state that he has deemed One Square Inch of Silence. It is marked with a reddish rock and a “Jar of Quiet Thoughts” — visitors’ musings on what Hempton has declared to be “the quietest place in the United States.”

Although the claim is arguable, it is certainly plausible.

Hempton, a 55-year-old Washington-based natural sound documentarian and audio ecologist, is one of the world’s top sound recordists. He’s measured sound in hundreds of spots across the country and the world, and has witnessed, painfully, a sharp decline of spaces devoid of mechanized sounds.

Gordon's Emmy Award

Gordon's Emmy Award

“I don’t want the absence of sound, I want the absence of noise,” he says.
Hempton’s professional credits include radio and television documentaries, a collection of 53 natural-sound recordings, and an Emmy award for the 1992 PBS documentary “Vanishing Dawn Chorus.” Next spring Simon and Schuster’s Free Press will publish “One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Save Silence in a Noisy World,” a book Hempton is co-writing with journalist John Grossmann.

“The logic is simple,” explains Hempton, who lives in the tiny town of Joyce, two hours northwest of the park. “If noise can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles. When you defend one square inch, in today’s world you help manage, to some degree, thousands of miles.

Entrance of Olympic National Park

Entrance of Olympic National Park

“Olympic National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a wilderness area. If we can’t save quiet here, don’t tell me we’re going to save it anywhere else.”

While Hempton keeps One Square Inch focused on Olympic National Park, he hopes others will pick up the mantle across the country and beyond.

Had today’s offender been heard at One Square Inch, some three miles east of the visitor’s center and about 50 yards off the Hoh River Trail, Hempton would have checked flight paths and airline schedules for the day and written a note asking the intruder to circumvent the park. (Only Alaska Airlines flies over regularly.)

(more…)

Ever seen a wind-powered camper?

May 15, 2008

Below is my version of a short piece on wind-turbine maker Michael Powers that appears, with Wessel’s photo, in this month’s Ode Magazine. After it ran, someone from “Weekend America” on NPR contacted me for more information, as they might do something too. That felt validating because I’d tried to sell this story to Sierra and Audobon mags and got no reply from either. The story came to be because our group of cyclists touring in Delmarva happened to camp near Michael. Only when cycling out of the park after a two-day stay did I decide I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I did a quickie interview  and Wessel took photos.

Here’s the piece: 

Wind turbine on campsite of Assateague State ParkTravelers who visit Assateague State Park in Maryland are accustomed to unusual sights, what with more than 100 wild horses freely roaming the grounds. But last summer, something manmade captured the attention of parkgoers as well. At one of the 350 campsites along two miles of the Atlantic Ocean stood a 28-foot whirring wind turbine powering the batteries of a Coleman Camper travel trailer.

Michael Powers next to his self-built wind turbineIts creator was Michael Powers, who will return to the island park in late-July with an even more efficient version of his eye-grabbing contraption. Powers, who lives near Baltimore, got the idea last spring of providing power for the camper’s two 13.8-volt batteries. Having gone with his wife and three children to Assateague for many summers, he figured the island’s constant breeze would be a perfect spot for wind energy.

“As a child, my father and I built a solar water heater for our family pool. Since then, I’ve always been thinking of ways to make solar and wind power,” says Powers, who by day manages a computer engineering team. “For this project I had my own ideas but did a lot of research on the Internet.”

Wind turbine at campsite of Assateague State ParkHe first set up the turbine in his back yard, which, he notes, did not thrill his suburban neighbors. The whole thing cost about $80, which included a $34 permanent-magnet motor and a $25 rotor, both purchased on eBay. He used PVC piping for the mast instead of the usual metal so as not to attract lightening. The wind supplied enough energy to power the campers’ lights, refrigerator, oven fan, and water pump.

This year Powers plans to increase the turbine’s efficiency by using fiberglass for the blades and switching out the steel rotor for a lighter aluminum one. He’s even considering using the wind to power a fan that would blow air across an ammonia-based evaporator to provide air conditioning.

Once he sets up again at Assateague, Powers and his highly visible windmill are sure to draw another round of curious campers.

“Everyone stops to talk to me about it, including the rangers,” Powers says. “My family thought it was weird that I had this up, but they’re used to it.”

Seeing green at Olympic National Park

April 22, 2008

I was lucky enough to have a story assignment for Ode Magazine that took me to Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state. About Ode: I first discovered it as a reader and am now thrilled to be writing for them. It’s probably the first glossy magazine I’ve written for that totally reflects my personal ethics and political leanings, which makes it now my favorite publication to write for.

I won’t give away the story, which will be out in the July/August issue, but I’m writing a profile on someone who has a strong connection to the park. This is the sort of story Wessel would not usually accompany me on, but he was dying to come to the park as well, and who could blame him. Of course he took his usual amount of photos (like 150 a day or so) and hopefully can sell a few.

Entrance Olympic National ParkMost of our time was spent in the stunning Hoh Rain Forest , the stunning park’s most popular spot. Because it was early April and the snow had only recently stopped falling, there were very few visitors, making it all the more special. Did it rain? Of course. But we never were subjected to downpours. The most spectacular aspect of the rainforest is the green – every shade imaginable and in all shapes and sizes, from giant log covered with moss to a carpet of frilly ferns. A rainforest is such a visible place to see life and death or the form of plant birth and decay.

Trees on top of remains of nurse logWe hiked the Hoh River Trail, which was quite muddy at many points. We passed towering trees here in one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest old-growth forest, including Sitka spruce that topped 200 feet and were 9 feet across. Wessel was most fascinated by the “nurse logs” that give tree seedlings a place to flourish before one day rotting away. We were often walking along the Hoh itself, a large river that is rather quiet this time of year. It carries logs from the forest all the way to the Pacific, where some become driftwood on the beaches we later visited. Quite the voyage!

Hall of MossesIf your time is limited, at least walk the Hall of Mosses loop from the visitor center. In less than a mile you’ll get a good sampling of most everything the Hoh Rain Forest has to offer.