Destination: One Square Inch Of Silence

pacificsolitude.jpgSilence is something that used to be part of the experience of life on earth… if you can imagine life before traffic, before airports, before ubiquitous machines and engines, speakers and earplugs. It’s just in the past 200 years or so that noise has become so prevalent in our lives, and considering there were humans on earth for a million years or so before that, our sensory experience of what it’s like to be human is strange and new.

It’s not easy to find places where we can escape from the onslaught of manmade sound. But in the 1980s, Gordon Hempton set out to study the preservation of natural sound in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, he has become an advocate for the protection of natural soundscapes, especially in the National Parks. ”Quiet is going extinct,” Hempton told the Register-Guard in a recent news story. ”I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it.”

Hempton’s search for quiet has driven him to create a career for himself as an “acoustic ecologist.” He started his own nonprofit organization, One Square Inch, to work to preserve the natural quiet in the few places where it remains.

Hempton encourages visitors to hike in to the One Square Inch of silence he found in Olympic National Park. Directions to the site are published on his Web site. “Your visit is encouraged,” Hempton says. “Please be quiet.” He says he believes that “the need for quiet and the power of quiet” will ensure that the site is well cared for. “There has been no evidence of vandalism or unnecessary activity in the area since this site was made public on April 22, 2005,” he says. At the site is the Jar of Quiet Thoughts, a depository of notes left by visitors.

onesquareinch.jpgThe small red stone that marks One Square Inch was a gift by former Cultural Elder of the Quileute Tribe, David Four Lines, to Gordon Hempton and subsequently donated to One Square Inch in 2005. Please do not disturb this stone in any way. The site is special, Hempton says, not only for its level of quiet but the quality of its silence. ”I’ve circled the globe three times in pursuing silent places,” he said. ”Olympic National Park is the most sonically diverse, and is the national park that has the longest periods of natural quiet that I have observed.”

Go there:
Directions to the Olympic silent site
Olympic National Park info
Forks, Wash., tourist info
California Library of Natural Sounds
The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology
Listen to natural sounds of wildlife online at the Cornell Ornithology Lab.