Here is another article from Orion, another must-read.
George Hempton is working to find and maintain areas that are "one square inch of silence."
I offer some excerpts from the article by Kathleen Dean Moore to entice.
"Gordon leads me into the dense forest where rain and wind are muffled by moss. Even so, on the path to this silent place, the natural sounds are deafening. “In a forest like this,” he says, leaning close to my ear, “a drop of rain may hit twenty times before it reaches the ground, and each impact—against a cedar bough, a vine-maple leaf, a snag—makes its own sound.” He crouches beside a fern-banked stream. “You can hear the treble tones,” he says, “but do you hear the bass undertones as well?” I kneel on the moss beside him, soaking through the knees of my rainpants.
I’ve never listened to water quite this way before, with such close attention to its music. “You can change the pitch of a stream by removing a stone.” I lift a cobble out of the water. The chord loses some of its brightness, picks up a drone I didn’t hear before. “A stream tunes itself over time,” Gordon says, “tumbling the rocks into place.” A channel gouging through the mud that remains after a hillside has been logged is “only noise. But an old mossy stream? That’s a fugue.” Once, he tells me, he heard wind move up the Hoh valley, knocking dry leaves off the bigleaf maple trees. “It sounded,” he says, “like a wave of applause.”
For love of sounds like these, Gordon has begun a campaign to protect the silence of the national parks. Even though silence and the natural soundscape are listed as natural resources in National Park Service documents, and even though park officials are charged with managing the land so as to protect its natural resources, no park has a plan to protect its stillness. So Gordon took the responsibility on himself.
He calls his project “One Square Inch of Silence.” Following leads, crisscrossing the country, he searched for one square inch where he could listen for fifteen minutes and not hear a human sound but the whisper of his pencil on wet paper. In Olympic National Park, where 95 percent of the land is protected as wilderness, he found the “widest diversity of soundscapes and the longest periods of natural quiet of any unit within the national park system.”
On Earth Day, 2005, Gordon marked the site with a small red stone, and this tiny space of silence he vowed to defend. He has asked Congress to designate a square inch of silence in ten other national parks as well. “Think about finding one place in a park that you can visit, where there will be no trucks heard, no planes flying over, no man-made machinery, no human noise,” he says. “Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?”
It’s a powerful idea. As Gordon knows, sound travels. If he can protect the silence of even an inch, he calculates that, in effect, he will be protecting the natural soundscape of approximately one thousand square miles of surrounding land. It’s a first step toward his goal of preventing the extinction of silence.""
“Do you hear the thrum of the river resonating in the trunks of the Sitka spruce?” he asks. “This is a tree whose wood is chosen for the finest violins.”
I try, but all I hear is the noise of my own mind—what I should have done, what I shouldn’t have said, and will I ever be warm or dry again? And this gray noise, the static that comes from my own ears. Gordon is sympathetic. He knows from experience that when people are long enough away from the “chemical whining” of caffeine, aspirin, and alcohol, and from the damage done to their hearing by the noise of the car that brings them here, their ears will silence themselves—and so will my mind.
“Silence is like scouring sand,” he says. “When you are quiet, the silence blows against your mind and etches away everything that is soft and unimportant.” What is left is what is real—pure awareness, and the very hardest questions."
"But silence? Silence creates an opening, an absence of self, which allows the larger world to enter into our awareness. It brings us into contact with what is beyond us, its beauty and mystery. Silence is not the absence of sounds, but a way of living in the world—an intentional awareness, an expression of gratitude, to make of one’s own ears, one’s own body, a sounding board that resonates in its hollow places with the vibrations of the world.
When wind plays across the maple leaves and sets them in motion, it’s we who are most deeply moved. No one knows why natural sounds speak so directly to the human spirit, but it’s possible to imagine what they say—that we are not separate from the world, not dominant or different. Like stone, like water, like wrens, we carry the shape of the world in our rustling. We are all music, we are all matter in motion, all of us, together sending our harmonies into a black and trembling sky."
"How shall I describe the beauty of this place? It’s an open glade, like the nave of a cathedral, carpeted in deep green moss and deer ferns. There are huckleberry bushes, their bare green branches standing in the rosy litter of their own fallen leaves. The bunchberry leaves have turned red, but the wood sorrel is intensely green. From the forest floor, the columns of the trees rise impossibly high, closing at last in a vaulted green ceiling. Everything glitters with scattering rain. Even the air twinkles, as if it were champagne."