Warren Miller: A breath of fresh air
August 21, 2011
The other evening I was sitting on our waterfront terrace with my wife, and it was as close to a perfect setting as nature or even Hollywood could create or provide. The sky had a blue to it that you can never see in a city because of air pollution. The closest big city to us is Seattle, almost 90 miles away. The channel we live on was as smooth as glass and the wind was just an occasional, light whisper in the trees that frame our view.
An International One Design-class sailboat with its graceful bow and stern overhangs slid by headed for Deer Harbor a couple of miles away. It barely had enough speed for steerageway. No one around here was in a hurry to be anywhere, when suddenly from the east we heard a low rumble. It was the throaty sound of a high-powered boat. When you live on a waterway long enough you can tell what kind of boat is approaching by its sound long before you can see it. In this case, it was a 65-mile-an-hour cigarette boat. It is designed for only one thing – getting from one place to another as fast as your money can buy fuel and your spare time will allow … well, maybe it is designed for another thing as well – for showing off.
I know of nothing anyone can buy that divides people into different strokes for different folks more than their choice of boats and the noise pollution they make.
It is sometimes so quiet on our terrace that you can hear a jet airplane as it is starting to let down for Seattle when it is still flying at about 35,000 feet, or seven miles away. When I make the occasional trip to a big city I don’t know whether it is the traffic, the smog or the noise that makes me realize why I escaped to a pair of skis as soon as I got out of the Navy in 1946.
And then I would escape to my surfboard when the snow disappeared. I really did enjoy the noise of a breaking wave, and fortunately I never had to listen to the roar of an avalanche up close and personal.
I did spend a lot of time being the noise polluter when I was doing my filming in a helicopter. On Mount Cook in New Zealand, it was so quiet and the air was so thin and clear that we could hear the helicopter whenever it got within five or six miles of us .
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An aside note: The air is so clear in that part of the world that I heard there is a company at the furthest south end of the south island in Tasmania that sets out empty Mason jars for 24 hours and then puts a tight lid on them and ships them all over the world. There is nothing inside the jar except Tasmanian air that is the least polluted of any air in the world. A lot of places compare their own air quality against that in the Mason jars. In some places the air is so bad that someone once said, “The view in the city is great but whatever you do, don’t breathe the air.”
Thirty years or more ago I read a report stating that if you lived in Pasadena, Calif., and inhaled the smog every day, it was the equivalent of smoking three cigarettes a day. When I told a friend of mine about that report he moved his printing company to Northern California because, he said, “I have no right to make my two young children smoke three cigarettes a day.”
I was lucky when I lived in Southern California, because I spent more than half of my time at or near the beach when the smog started arriving in the Los Angeles basin after World War II. I was at the beach unless I was away filming skiing. I only had to breathe the smog when I had business in Hollywood. Sometimes it would be a week or two between visits, and when my company grew I hired a young student to make the two-hour round trip from Hermosa Beach to Hollywood and back for me. I’m not dumb … took me a while, but I finally figured that one out.
My wife and I are very lucky people because we get to live here during the summer, but it is true that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and with the right attitude, beauty can be found everywhere.
It is easier to find it now, in the city. With all the efforts to clean up the air, it is so much better now … so lucky for many of you who ride elevators to work!