In the Hoh River rain forest deep in Olympic National Park there is a spot where I experienced an ancient, primal quiet. A small group of us were led by Gordon Hempton to the place he had dubbed “one square inch of silence.” An accomplished recorder of nature sounds, he had been all over the world looking for places that were quiet for at least 15 minutes at a stretch, finding vanishingly few. Flight paths, roads and other human noise criss-cross our world.
I learned that quiet deserves to be heard, and I’ll not soon forget this place. I read Hempton’s book, with John Grossman, “One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest for Natural Silence in a Noisy World,” Free Press, 2009. And at his author appearance in Bellingham he brought his recording of snow melting. With his wonderful equipment, he’d got in close under an arc of snow at Hurricane Ridge, a small shelf, dripping, probably onto pavement. We listened in stillness—not a cough from the full house, not a wiggle from the children present. That is, until I broke and chuckled. The pings and plops so slyly musical, the surprises, syncopation, the composition, if you will, (which Gordon left unedited!) that it tickled me beyond holding.
His web site at has a sample recording (naturally) from the park—I especially like from the ninth minute on. And do visit the newer site link, for Quiet Park International. Of the many things that changed for me after reading the book and getting to know Gordon is taking care to never fly or land early on a Spring morning, because I can never know how close a bird gathering place may be, a lek, for singing to each other in the very early mornings, and how my flight’s roar can easily drown out the birds ability to hear each other.

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