‘One Square Inch’ speaks loud and clear

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.

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2 Responses to “‘One Square Inch’ speaks loud and clear”

  1. Jess Shankleman Says:

    Silence might be a good way of getting in touch with nature, but it isn’t what humans are about. We have voices so we can make noise and enjoy ourselves. Even cities and towns, which can feel like monstrous hubbubs of noise, can also be appreciated for representing the society we live in and the people we are.

    That said, I do wear earplugs to go to sleep.

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