Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Last Quiet Places: Gordon Hempton on Silence and the Presence of Everything (from On Being)

Gordon Hempton is founder and vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation based in Joyce, Washington. He's the author of One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet. He was Krista Tippett's guest a few weeks ago on NPR's On Being.

Hempton defines silence not as the absence of sound, but as the absence of noise. He says that quiet is a "think tank of the soul." I like that.

The Last Quiet Places: Gordon Hempton on Silence and the Presence of Everything

July 4, 2013

Gordon Hempton records the winter silence of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park near One Square Inch of Silence

Silence is an endangered species, says Gordon Hempton. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth, as he knows it, is a "solar-powered jukebox." Quiet is a "think tank of the soul." We take in the world through his ears.


Radio Show/Podcast (mp3, 51:09)
Unedited Interview Gordon Hempton (mp3, 89:37)


Krista's Journal

Soundscapes of Nature's Silence

We've isolated some of our favorite narrative sound treatments included in this radio show and podcast. Listen in (we strongly encourage headphones or earbuds!) as we pair these soundscapes with reflective passages and photos.

A Hike Through the Hoh Rain Forest: A Soundscape Meditation

Through the sounds of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, Hempton guides us on an aural hike to One Square Inch of Silence.


Sitka Spruce on Rialto Beach

Poke your head inside this giant driftwood log and experience a "surf symphony in the wild" as the surf plucks the wood fibers and cause them to vibrate like the strings of a violin.


The Poetics of Space Across Latitudes

An aural journey across three zones — from the Amazon and Central America to the temperate latitudes of the Great Northwest. The difference in silence will astound you.


The Listening Horizon at Dawn

Taken from his recordings of dawn in the Midwest U.S., Gordon Hempton uses this condensed audio to help people practice true listening in wide, open space.

Voices on the Radio

Gordon Hempton is founder and vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation based in Joyce, Washington. He's the author of One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet.

Selected Reading from "One Square Inch of Silence"

by Gordon Hempton

The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague." So said the Nobel Prize-winning bacteriologist Robert Koch in 1905. A century later, that day has drawn much nearer. Today silence has become an endangered species. Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions. Nor is there relief even at the North Pole; continent-hopping jets see to that. Moreover, fighting noise is not the same as preserving silence. Our typical anti-noise strategies — earplugs, noise cancellation headphones, even noise abatement laws — offer no real solution because they do nothing to help us reconnect and listen to the land. And the land is speaking.

We've reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life-style changes. More than ever before, we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place.

It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may. Long before the noises of mankind, there were only the sounds of the natural world. Our ears evolved perfectly tuned to hear these sounds-sounds that far exceed the range of human speech or even our most ambitious musical performances: a passing breeze that indicates a weather change, the first birdsongs of spring heralding a regreening of the land and a return to growth and prosperity, an approaching storm promising relief from a drought, and the shifting tide reminding us of the celestial ballet. All of these experiences connect us back to the land and to our evolutionary past.

One Square Inch of Silence is a place in the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Olympic National Park &mdas; arguably the quietest place in the United States. But it, too, is endangered, protected only by a policy that is neither practiced by the National Park Service itself nor supported by adequate laws. My hope is that One Square Inch will trigger a quiet awakening in all those willing to become true listeners.

Preserving natural silence is as necessary and essential as species preservation, habitat restoration, toxic waste cleanup, and carbon dioxide reduction, to name but a few of the immediate challenges that confront us in this still young century. The good news is that rescuing silence can come much more easily than tackling these other problems. A single law would signal a huge and immediate improvement. That law would prohibit all aircraft from flying over our most pristine national parks.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It lives here, profoundly, at One Square Inch in the Hoh Rain Forest. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.

Silence is a sound, many, many sounds. I've heard more than I can count. Silence is the moonlit song of the coyote signing the air, and the answer of its mate. It is the falling whisper of snow that will later melt with an astonishing reggae rhythm so crisp that you will want to dance to it. It is the sound of pollinating winged insects vibrating soft tunes as they defensively dart in and out of the pine boughs to temporarily escape the breeze, a mix of insect hum and pine sigh that will stick with you all day. Silence is the passing flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches, chirping and fluttering, reminding you of your own curiosity.

Have you heard the rain lately? America's great northwest rain forest, no surprise, is an excellent place to listen. Here's what I've heard at One Square Inch of Silence. The first of the rainy season is not wet at all. Initially, countless seeds fall from the towering trees. This is soon followed by the soft applause of fluttering maple leaves, which settle oh so quietly as a winter blanket for the seeds. But this quiet concert is merely a prelude.

When the first of many great rainstorms arrives, unleashing its mighty anthem, each species of tree makes its own sound in the wind and rain. Even the largest of the raindrops may never strike the ground. Nearly 300 feet overhead, high in the forest canopy, the leaves and bark absorb much of the moisture … until this aerial sponge becomes saturated and drops re-form and descend farther … striking lower branches and cascading onto sound-absorbing moss drapes … tapping on epiphytic ferns … faintly plopping on huckleberry bushes ... and whacking the hard, firm salal leaves … before, finally, the drops inaudibly bend the delicate clover-like leaves of the wood sorrel and drip to leak into the ground. Heard day or night, this liquid ballet will continue for more than an hour after the actual rain ceases.

Recalling the warning of Robert Koch, developer of the scientific method that identifies the causes of disease, I believe the unchecked loss of silence is a canary in a coal mine-a global one. If we cannot make a stand here, if we turn a deaf ear to the issue of vanishing natural quiet, how can we expect to fare better with more complex environmental crises?

Like-Minded Conversations

Elizabeth Alexander on Words That Shimmer

Poetry is something many of us seem to be hungry for these days. We're hungry for fresh ways to tell hard truths and redemptive stories, for language that would elevate and embolden rather than demean and alienate. Elizabeth Alexander shares her sense of what poetry works in us — and in our children — and why it may become more relevant, not less so, in hard and complicated times.

A Wild Love For the World with Joanna Macy

Joanna Macy is a philosopher of ecology, a Buddhist scholar, and an exquisite translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. We take that poetry as a lens on her wisdom on spiritual life and its relevance for the political and ecological dramas of our time.

Production Credits

  • Host/Producer: Krista Tippett
  • Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss
  • Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle
  • Senior Producer: David McGuire
  • Associate Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum
  • Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell

No comments: