Most lyrical quote ever given to a newspaper

October 8, 2010 • 7:33 pm

Move over, Thomas Wolfe!  Here, as the final sentences in a New York Times story about noisy wind turbines, for God’s sake, is a quote of ineffably purple lyricism.  Cheryl Lindgren of Maine mourns the silence lost to her when they turned on the turbines:

But that is cold comfort for Mrs. Lindgren and her neighbors, who say their corner of the island will never be the same.

“I remember the sound of silence so palpable, so merciless in its depths, that you could almost feel your heart stop in sympathy,” she said. “Now we are prisoners of sonic effluence. I grieve for the past.”

Give that woman a book contract!


18 thoughts on “Most lyrical quote ever given to a newspaper

  1. Nice quote but she’ll need a bit of work to dislodge Wolfe as one of the best wordsmiths (at least in English) of all time. My favorite is his epigraph to You Can’t Go Home Again:

    “It seemed to him that all man’s life was like a tiny spurt of flame that blazed out briefly in an illimitable and terrifying darkness, and that all man’s grandeur, tragic diginity, his heroic glory, came from the brevity and smallness of this flame. He knew his life was little and would be extinguished, and that only darkness was immense and everlasting. And he knew that he would die with defiance on his lips, and that the shout of his denial would ring with the last pulsing of his heart into the maw of all-engulfing night.”

  2. That is beautiful–I know what she means, too. My parents moved to a tiny town in Arizona so my mother could listen to birds and silence and have a dark sky with stars and no light pollution.

  3. I don’t get these complaints. We have a giant wind turbine in the area and the noise is minimal. It’s quieter than the cars, church bells, etc. anyway.

  4. Man, I don’t know. A “silence so palpable, so merciless in its depths, that you could almost feel your heart stop in sympathy”? In sympathy with what, its mercilessness? Pretty fuzzy poetics there.

    But I sympathize with Mrs. Lindgren, for sure. In several communities here in northern Vermont we’re contending now with the same portentous threats of profound annoyance and lasting disfigurement, not just of our rural peace and quiet, but of our beloved undulating ridgelines and soft, wooded hilltops.

    Today’s wind-power technology is simply unsuited for terrain where the wind isn’t nearly constant and where the neighbors (not only human) will be bothered by the many disruptions caused by the construction, maintenance, noise, and eventual removal costs (windmills don’t last long). What’s more, where the supply is intermittent, other traditional sources of power must also be always on line, which argues against the reckless preference for wind turbines over the logical, much less costly and more responsible alternative: conservation education. Trouble is, there are so many (well-intentioned) subsidies and tax incentives and inducements to development that construction companies can’t help but jump for the easy money.

  5. Oh God, make it stop! I spent five years of my life working at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, NC, and I still haven’t quite gotten over all the bloated, narcissistic crap I read. Pages on end about effing nothing! His whole ouvre could be summed up as “here, take a look at my navel,” but no one ever spilled more ink to say so little. I’m with DeVoto, genius is not enough!

  6. There will come a time, perhaps sooner than you think, when the choice will be between wind turbines, however much you do or don’t like them, and having electricity in your home.

    The Earth has a finite supply of petroleum; I think everybody agrees on that. Demand for petroleum is increasing at an exponential rate; I don’t think there’s any disagreement about that, too. And discovery and production are flat, maybe declining, and below the all-time records. Again, no controversy I’m aware of.

    People come to one of three conclusions based on that set of facts: they haven’t given it any thought; they conclude that demand will soon outstrip supply, leading to shortages, price increases and shocks, and generally a global repeat of the US in the ’70s; or that some ill-defined alternative source of petroleum (Canadian tar sands, better extraction and exploration, etc.) will postpone the inevitable by a century or more.

    Those who take the third route and therefore deny that peak oil is upon us fail to understand that the problem isn’t nearly so much a lack of oil as a lack of cheap oil. Long gone are the days when you could stick a pipe in a random plot in Texas and let the natural pressure spray it into your barrels. Today we’re getting oil from wells a mile under the ocean surface, which I can assure you is a very expensive operation. The Canadian tar sands hold lots of oil, yes, but processing that oil will be very, very expensive. And some sources of oil will need almost as much energy to process as they will produce when burned, meaning that they’re not useful as energy sources.

    Peak oil is therefore an economic problem. Our just-in-time economy depends on rapid transportation which depends on jet fuel and diesel. If fuel costs rise significantly, just-in-time manufacturing becomes cost-prohibitive, taking out huge sectors of our economy. Our food production also relies upon vast amounts of diesel to power farm equipment.

    I don’t think there’s enough time for our civilization to switch from petroleum as an energy source / storage medium to one that produces electricity from renewable sources and stores it in high-efficiency batteries before things get very, very uncomfortable. I expect to live to see another great global depression, one that will be heralded by ’70s-style gasoline rationing and skyrocketing food prices.

    Which is why I’m on schedule to pay off my mortgage in record time and put a whole-house solar photovoltaic array on the roof. I drive very little right now, but I’ll admit I’m thinking tentatively about one of the new generation of plug-in hybrids.

    I figure that financial- and energy-independence should let me weather even the worst of depressions in relative comfort. And, if we dodge the bullet, I’ll be able to afford to really live in style — especially since my idea of living in style is pretty modest.

    So, that’s my advice. Prepare for trouble, but not by building a bomb shelter and stocking up on ammunition; if things get that bad, you’re not going to live long regardless, so there’s not much point in preparing for something that unlikely. Rather, get your financial house in order and figure out what it’ll take for you to sleep well at night if the soup kitchens re-open.

    I’m afraid that an oil depression while we scramble to switch to something more affordable is all but certain at this point. How soon is anybody’s guess, but prudence dictates assuming it’s in the short-term future even if a timeframe of several years is pessimistic.

    And, finally, I’m really looking forward to the other side. Though I’m pretty sure I’ll live to see a global depression, I’m also pretty sure I’ll live to see the emergence from said depression…and that emergence will be to a world run not by petroleum but mostly by solar, wind, and geothermal energy with a bit of nuclear thrown in for good measure. And that world will have far fewer cars on the road, making them much safer for bicycles. And the air will be much, much, much more pleasant to breathe. And, done right, we’ll have vastly greater amounts of energy available to us (think space-based solar power generation), leading to technologies as fanciful to us today as a modern cell phone would have been to Dick Tracy.

    It’ll be painful getting from here to there, but it’ll be worth it.



    1. I pretty much have the same thoughts, although I’m a bit pessimistic about the food supply, which currently uses large quantities of fossil fuels, not just for powering machines (which can be done in other ways) but also for creating the chemical fertilizers that power the massive increase in crop yields we’ve seen since the Green Revolution.

      Also, things like electric cargo/passenger aircraft, and electric truck-based freight are pretty unrealistic given the foreseeable technologies. Perhaps engineering microorganisms to create fuel, and/or the recreation of the rail transport, will be the answer.

      But if no answer is found, there will be big problems because most cities have less than a week’s supply of food, and rely on a constant supply being trucked in from rural areas…

      1. Well, the thing to remember is that we won’t run out of oil all at once — or even ever, for that matter.

        Rather, demand will gradually start to outstrip supply. Prices will rise, which will reduce demand. And, really, that’s “all” there is to it.

        It’s not like we’ll wake up one morning and suddenly what’s on the shelves will be all that’s left; rather, the cost of oil, food, transportation, and everything else will gradually rise (though perhaps at an alarming rate accompanied by price shocks). People will spend less money on other things (worsening the financial crisis in the process). The most vulnerable will go into debt, lose all their possessions, and wind up on the streets in lines at soup kitchens. The vacancies will in turn, of course, lead to squatting, tent cities, and large slums.

        …and some of the smarter displaced people, or at least the ones with less pride, will wind up on farms with jobs manually doing what the farmers can no longer afford to do with tractors.

        The smart farmers will devote some of their land, if they haven’t already, to biofuel crops like algae and switchgrass. They’ll make huge profits, and it won’t take long for others to pick up the cue.

        The really smart farmers, to bring this thread back full circle, will figure out a way to cover their land in wind turbines in such a way that doesn’t hamper growing their crops. They’ll be making profits on three things that will be very much in demand: food (because they’re not spending all their money on fuel because they’re making their own); fuel (because they can sell their excess); and electricity (which will be almost pure profit once they’ve paid off the capital expenses). At a time when almost everybody else is in deep shit, they’ll be in the catbird seat.

        But it’s going to be a very painful transition. A lot of people are going to die of starvation in the mean time, but it’ll be because they can’t afford to buy food, not because food shipments stop overnight. Most of those people will be in the parts of the developing world that depend on food imports, but a surprising number will be the poor in the developed world. Mexico City, I think, will not be nearly as populous twenty years from now.

        The good news is that it’s not hard to make fuel from plants; we’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve made whiskey and vodka. And a wind turbine is just an electric fan run in reverse. Photovoltaics are expensive, but there are cheap-but-inefficient varieties that I imagine might become popular. Some forms of solar thermal (boiling something to run a turbine) can probably be done by scavenging most of the parts of petroleum-based power plants.

        It’s just that oil has been so much cheaper that it hasn’t been profitable to invest in any of these alternatives. When oil prices double, some of those alternatives will be competitive (though they’ll still be much more expensive than oil today). When oil prices quadruple, almost all of them will be competitive (though, again, they’ll be much more expensive than oil is today). When oil gets expensive enough, nobody’ll burn it any more because it’ll be cheaper to get energy from something else (even if that something else is ridiculously expensive).

        Again, it’s that “oil is going to get very expensive” that’s the problem. By now, it should be obvious that we’re never going to actually run out of oil, just that nobody will bother sucking out the last of it because something else, expensive as it may be by today’s standards, will be far cheaper.

        I wouldn’t bet on it, but I hope to live to read the headline, “World’s last major oil refinery shut down with commemorative ceremony.” Not so much because I want to see the end of the oil age, but because I know it’s coming, and I think it’d be really neat to see what’s on the other side.



  7. Wonder if some sort of “cup” could be built around the blades, reducing their noise?

    In any event, I look forward to getting home and shutting the doors and keeping at bay the cacaphony of the contemporary world. (I don’t care what Robert Putnam of “Bowling Alone” fame says; at the end of the day I’m ready to keep humanity at arm’s length.) I hardly watch TV, and I can hardly stand to listen to even NPR, especially “Morning Edition.” I do not seek to be entertained. (I can’t stand jarring electric guitar at 5:20 a.m. in the [alleged] musical interludes.) Rather, I wish to be informed and perhaps even enlightened.

  8. Also, to make the distinction, there’s “Electric Koolaid Acid Test” (Is that correct?) Tom Wolfe, and then Asheville-born, Germany-infatuated, Thomas Wolf (“Look Homeward, Angel” and “You Can’t Go Home Again”).

    1. Not so. There really are legitimate reasons to oppose the incursion of wind power into rural settings where basic, quality-of-life attributes stand to be irrevocably confounded.

      As the Times piece suggests, constant noise and vibration, to name just one problem, can be a deeply troubling consequence of poor siting. Wind towers have their place, no question, but too often these days they are being imposed on impoverished, sparsely populated communities largely because opposition to them is likely to be weak and disorganized.

  9. Ok, how about some reactionary haiku:

    Windmills gyrate on
    Global Summer to beat
    Paradise to eat

  10. Well Kele already said it, but I was wondering what sort of hearing aids these people must be wearing to complain about the noise of a wind turbine. Unless you’re right next to them you won’t hear anything with cars running nearby. I guess in the evening you might hear the whooping noise.

  11. Audiologist Today has a good summation of what is known about wind turbine noise –
    In the UK we are undergoing a massive wind turbine building programme at sea, & I am not sure what the consequences will be for marine wildlife. James Lovelock is opposed to them – he would prefer nuclear power. I think we should just use less of everything.

  12. Here is a bit of prose from Darwin’s Voyage of The Beagle (Chapter 21) that I can personally vouch for.
    “In calling up images of the past, I find that the plains of Patagonia frequently cross before my eyes; yet these plains are pronounced by all wretched and useless. They can be described only by negative characters; without habitations, without water, without trees, without mountains . . . Why, then, and the case is not peculiar to myself, have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory? . . . I can scarcely analyze these feelings: but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination. The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely passable, and hence unknown: they bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration through future time. If, as the ancients supposed, the flat earth was surrounded by an impassable breadth of water, or by deserts heated to an intolerable excess, who would not look at these last boundaries to man’s knowledge with deep but ill-defined sensations?”
    Patagonia: one more place to visit before you die.

Leave a Reply