- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Fred Bell is right. After a while, you start to hear everything.

The crunch of boots on a rocky trail. The gurgle of coffee in your stomach. The plastic creak of headphones as they are pulled open and nestled over your ears.

Then everything else falls away, leaving only what Bell is really listening for: what is always there and always has been, whether we bother to hear it or not.

Bell is on a quest for quiet. The Henderson man spends his free time stalking the sounds of solitude using high-tech recording equipment he assembled himself.

“It’s not just the absence of noise,” the 53-year-old told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/1mbYZR7). “I want to hear activity. I want to hear the sounds of nature.”

But what he’s after is increasingly hard to find, especially in Las Vegas.

Bell has to get up before dawn and travel to lonesome corners of Southern Nevada, almost always by himself. He has to track airline flight patterns and other noise pollution sources. He has to remain almost motionless for minutes, even hours at a time, to let nature come to him.

“It’s a lot of sitting still, being patient and failing,” he says.

Bell first started listening about six years ago, after he heard about an acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton, author of “One Square Inch of Silence,” an acclaimed book-turned-movement to preserve natural quiet.

As an avid outdoorsman and photographer, Bell found the idea provocative. He soon began carrying his own recorder into the mountains and the desert to capture their distinctive sounds.

“It was sort of an awakening in a way,” he says.

One of the first things he realized was that some of his favorite spots to hike and shoot pictures - places such as Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire - were lousy places to find quiet.

He also discovered a stark difference between what is pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the ear. He began to find great sounds to record in places he would never consider taking a photograph.

Before long, Bell came to see the distinction between quiet and silence.

“You can go places and hear absolutely nothing. There are places out at Desert (National Wildlife Refuge) where all you hear is your ears ringing and your heart beating,” he says. “I want something to listen to.”

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