Silence Like Scouring Sand

Photo: Chris Jordan
Photo: Chris Jordan

RAIN POUNDS against the open tailgate of my car, where I’ve taken shelter from the worst of the storm. Water pours from the hemlocks onto the devil’s club. From maple bole to bole, raindrops bounce, splattering salmonberry and sorrel. I shrug into my rain gear, shoulder my pack, and splash across the parking lot. Rain bells off cars, smacks against my hood, beats on my shoulders, and drums on the garbage bag covering my pack. Against all instinct, I’m going to backpack into the clattering teeth of this North Pacific gale, in search of silence.

It’s not easy to find silence in the modern world. If a quiet place is one where you can listen for fifteen minutes in daylight hours without hearing a human-created sound, there are no quiet places left in Europe. There are none east of the Mississippi River. And in the American West? Maybe twelve. One of these is in the temperate rainforest along the Hoh River in Olympic National Park.

At the Hoh River trailhead, where a path disappears into the gloom under giant, lichen-draped Douglas fir and western red cedar, I meet up with Gordon Hempton. He stands calm and dry under an umbrella, comfortable in the wool and cotton clothes he has chosen for their silence. Middle-aged, limber, and weather-tanned, Gordon is a man on a mission to record the natural sounds of the world before they are drowned out by human noise. For years, he has searched for the quiet places where falling water and wren song can still be clearly heard. This weekend, he is taking me to one of the few remaining quiet spots in the United States.

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.

PAST THE FIRST MILEPOST toward One Square Inch, we cross a glade that borders the Hoh River. After so many days of rain, the Hoh is in full flood. Gray water roars over torn-out root wads, ramming logs against the shore, undercutting the banks, and rolling rocks downstream. Gordon pulls out his sound-level meter, a machine that looks like a hand-held radio but measures sound in decibels.

“Sixty-three decibels.” The river has the same sound level as ocean surf in a storm. This, Gordon says, is one-tenth the volume of the traffic noise outside the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Seattle Public Library.

Cities drown us in sound. Buses grinding gears and motorcycles grumbling, woofers thudding, endless engines combusting, trucks beeping, and street-corner preachers calling down damnation on it all — what does it do to the human being, whose ears evolved as a warning system? In daylight, our eyes can warn us of danger in front of us. But our ears alert us to opportunity and danger twenty-four hours a day, from every direction, even through dense vegetation and total darkness. Some linguists believe that the oldest word is hist — listen!

When predators are on the prowl, birds and frogs, even insects, fall silent. No wonder humans are drawn to places where the birds feel safe enough to sing. No wonder we smile to hear a frog chorus in the dark. But in the cacophonous city, Gordon believes, we are always on edge, always flinching, the way a deer trembles when it drinks from a noisy river. People continuously assaulted by high levels of traffic noise have suppressed immune systems and significantly increased risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks. A city will be comfortable for a human, Gordon says, only when it’s quiet enough to hear shoe leather touch cement, only when lovers can talk without shouting at each other.

I know what he means. I’m still on edge from the noise of the drive up I-5 through Portland. When trucks roared past me, they threw rain with such a thud against the windshield that it drowned out even my shirring tires, the smacking wipers, and on my CD player, Pink Floyd’s bass guitar.

However, it’s not noise in the cities that most concerns Gordon, but the extinction of silence in wild places. It’s the way that human sounds drown out the music of the natural world that breaks his heart — and gets his back up. Even national parks are not always able to protect the music of a morning wind in pines, the echo of a woodpecker tapping a hollow trunk, the thrum of distant surf. Dawn in a national park often begins with the brown noise of automobile traffic and swells with the awakening sounds of RV generators, jet overflights, sightseeing helicopters, and “It’s a Small World After All” playing in the next camp over.

Human noise also damages animals, whose behaviors are exquisitely tuned to songs and other auditory signals they use to hunt and to escape, to establish territories and find mates. Scientists have documented the harmful effects of mining blasts on elk, passenger jets on bald eagles, the Navy’s submarine-hunting sonar on dolphins and whales and roaring dune buggies on kangaroo rats trying to avoid sidewinder snakes. Just as animals have ecological niches, they have aural niches, defined by the soundscapes they live in. The onslaught of noise destroys that aural habitat. Birdsongs, especially the low-pitched sounds, are lost along highways, which are, in effect, wide swaths of loud, low-pitched noise reaching deep into the forests and meadows, reducing bird habitat — and sometimes eliminating it entirely.

It’s a loss to humans too. Just as artificial lights drown out the stars, our engines drown out the birdsongs, and our experience of the world’s beauty is that much more impoverished.

AT 1.4 MILES, we turn off the trail to check a possible campsite, but the hollow where we would pitch tents is a muddy puddle. We hike on, splashing along the trail, past dark skunk-cabbage sloughs, over trickling rivulets, under the boughs of cedar so tall their crowns are lost in fog. I’m glad for my rubber boots, because the trail has become a stream, and the rocky steps are small waterfalls. We stop often to listen, putting our ears close to the dark decaying hollow of a stump, or a green carpet of bunchberry, or a fallen log whose crosscut section shows more than three hundred growth rings. Gordon stops next to an enormous tree and listens intently.

“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.

Many years ago, Gordon was a botany student in Wisconsin. As he was driving back to school from the West Coast, night came on, and he stopped to sleep in an Iowa cornfield. Lying on the ground, he listened to crickets scratch their crisp fiddles and corn stalks rasp against their leaves. He heard thunder rumble. The crickets and the corn went silent, and the storm rolled over him. He heard raindrops smack into soil, and hail rattle the stalks. Then the thunder was growling far away and crickets were singing again.

How could it be that he had never before heard, really heard, the sounds of the Earth? From that time forward, how could he do anything but listen? How should he live his life? “Whatever came next,” he told me, “had to measure up to the honesty of that night.”

Gordon dropped out of school and took a job as a bike messenger in Seattle. Everything he earned went into the microphones and tape machines that would train his ear. Now he travels the world, recording sounds with a microphone that has the shape and acoustic characteristics of a human head. He produces CDs from these recordings — the pure sounds of the natural world, unadorned by human music, uninterrupted by the human voice. He has become the SoundTracker, whose recordings caught the attention of composer John Cage, earned him an Emmy Award, and landed him contracts to record the soundtracks for PBS specials, movies, and even Microsoft computer games.

His most famous recording project is Dawn Chorus. As dawn moves across the curve of the slowly turning planet and erases the darkness with light, birds cry out, tentatively at first, insects chime, melting snow strikes stone, a light wind rises, and the whole Earth begins to sing. To his ears, it is a song of astonishment and gratitude.

Astonishment and gratitude are an important part of what the future stands to lose under the shouting engines of human ambition. When humans silence nature, drowning out the small voices, we subordinate it to our own presumed power. Anyone who has felt the oppression in a classroom or boardroom or marriage when only some are free to speak will understand what it means to be silenced — to have no voice, to be seen and not heard, to be told to “pay attention,” which means do not pay attention to any voice but one. Human noise is yet one more oil-fired expression of modernity’s claim of sovereignty and control over the natural world.

It speaks also of separation. The seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes drew a sharp distinction between humans and the rest of creation. Humans, the thinking beings, have the power of intelligent speech, he wrote. But all other beings — birds, frogs, even dogs — are material substance only, machines that may tick like clocks or squeal like dry bearings, but can never think or feel. Is it any wonder that Western civilization babbles and roars humanity’s isolation from the other creatures of the Earth? Is it any wonder we are reckless with the world?

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.

AT MILEPOST 2.3, we sling off our packs and pitch tents. The rain seems to have let up, here under the shelter of a Douglas fir whose trunk is nine feet across. We’re not far now from One Square Inch. As I tighten the ropes on my tarp, Gordon tells me about his efforts to defend the silence of that place.

Every month, Gordon sits by the stone to listen. If he hears a human-created sound, he documents its volume, locates the source, and makes an official complaint: On April 16, 2006, an aircraft later identified as a Boeing B767 with tail number N582HA flying at an altitude of 36,972´ and registered to Hawaiian Airlines produced an audible noise impact of 44 dB(A) at One Square Inch. Hawaiian Airlines wrote back, explaining that the offending flight was only a test flight and promising to avoid the area in the future.

Alaska Airlines has not been quite as forthcoming. Thirty-seven Alaska flights fly over the Olympic National Park every day, dragging cones of noise through the forest. “It’s physically impossible for a jet to fly high enough that its engines can’t be heard on Earth,” Gordon says, but that’s not the point. The point is that these flights are still gaining altitude, so their thrusters are roaring as the jets power over the seven-thousand-foot peaks of the Brothers Wilderness in the heart of the park.

Alaska has agreed to “enact a policy” that encourages flight crews to avoid the park on nonroutine flight operations such as maintenance and test flights. But they will not reroute passenger jets. “Deviations from [the FAA preferred routing] would increase delays,” they wrote to Gordon, “causing higher fuel burn and increased emissions.” They don’t explain why this has to be so. Alaska passenger jets still pour noise onto the glacier-etched peaks and deep forests of the Olympic peninsula.

Even so, Gordon sees progress in soundscape management. The Federal Aviation Administration has rerouted planes from runway 25 at Denver International Airport to avoid disturbing bald eagles. In response to a suit by the National Resources Defense Council, a federal court has prohibited the Navy from conducting sonar exercises off California in complete disregard for the whales and the laws that would protect them.

And Olympic National Park? Public information officer Barbara Maynes believes the park’s management has for many years been aligned with Gordon’s goals, although they are not working together. “Protection of natural soundscapes is part of everything we do,” Maynes says. She points out that while Gordon is protecting one square inch of silence, the park is charged with protecting five trillion square inches and a host of sometimes conflicting values. The park welcomes the visitors who come to experience One Square Inch, even as Maynes expresses “concern for possible resource damage” caused by that concentration of attention. But Maynes affirms the park’s commitment to strive in everything they do for the “least impact” on natural sounds.

It seems that Gordon has tapped into a wellspring of human yearning for stillness and concern for the commonweal of natural sounds. The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse cites several hundred organizations working to prevent the harm that noise causes, from the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition to the World Health Organization. They argue that the air is a commons, a public good, shared and cared for by all. Like secondhand smoke or elevated mercury levels, dumping noise into the air damages the well-being and health of the many, in order to benefit the few — a violation of the ethic of the commons.

AT 3.2 MILES, Gordon steps onto a path that leads to the left through an arch formed by the straddling legs of a great cedar. From here, we follow an elk trail into the woods. We’re approaching the One Square Inch of silence now, and Gordon asks only one thing of me. Silence. We walk in — not far, maybe seventy-five yards — through a shallow swale, over shaggy hummocks, to a shoulder-high log fallen so long ago that its bark is coated with moss and hemlock seedlings root in the duff on its back. Here, at 47° 51.959´ N, 123° 52.221´ W, is a square red stone that marks the inch of silence.

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.

And what do I hear? A tiny lisp — a bushtit maybe. Tick, tap, pock of waterdrops, different sounds for every surface they strike. I hear a drop of water pop when it hits a maple leaf forty feet way. There is the faraway rustle of the river. Time passes, unmeasured. Then the quiet is filled with the clatter of a bald eagle, a sound like stones shaken in a tin pot. Sitting on his heels in the damp moss, Gordon grins, but doesn’t speak.

Next to him, almost hidden under the log, is a small metal canister. This is the Jar of Quiet Thoughts. Gordon put it here, an invitation to people who visit One Square Inch to record their responses to the silence. I open the jar and pull out crumpled scraps of paper. Many wrote of love. One couple came here to be married, a person came to pray, another found deep connection here, in the call of a thrush. Others wrote of wonder, to hear the voices of the deep quiet. I realize that One Square Inch has become a sacred place — silence has made it so. Quiet is a kind of reverence.

A small wind shakes a huckleberry bush. A crow calls from the crown of an alder. A hemlock needle falls on my shoulder, and I turn, astonished to have heard it land.

Kathleen Dean Moore is a philosopher, nature writer, public speaker, and defender of all that is wet and wild. Moore’s nature books have won the Oregon Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award, and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. Her work is published in magazines such as Audubon, Discover, The Sun, and the New York Times Magazine. She serves on the Boards of Directors for the Orion Society, the Oregon Humanities Magazine, and the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska. She teaches writing workshops in beautiful places, from wilderness Alaska to the Apostle Islands.


  1. Natural silence is of such a tremendous importance as to gain basic contact with human consciousness – so thank you very much for the effort to raise awareness on natural silence.

  2. To respond to an article on silence is like interrupting the silence on one level but I am filled with gratitude and wonder. A more recent translation of Elijah’s encounter with God describes it as the sound of sheer silence instead of a still small voice. I think this is more accurate.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful story and bringing this to the attention of others. I praise Gordon on his efforts. I hope that others will find a path that can bring them to appreciate the beauty of natural silence. As you so eloquently point out it is far from silence, it’s a grand symphony. Closing the eyes while surrounded by natural silence one’s ears become filled with the wonder of the natural world. An ever changing soundscape that is priceless in an age where it is all but impossible to escape the noise of man. While some may find demons in the silence it is likely those demons are born from within and the ears are hollow to the healing sounds found in nature. It’s most unfortunate that the vast majority of humans fail to appreciate what we are losing until it is gone. Thank you for the story and to Gordon for his efforts.

  4. I live in Central Maine, and while Kathleen is right that silence is harder to come by in the east these days, I know that there are many places in Maine where there is the kind of silence she describes. I hesitated to stand up for them as the less people know of them the more protected they are. They do exist and I am grateful to live among them.

  5. I enjoyed the article. However, I’ve got to say that if Kathleen Dean Moore and Gordon Hemptor want silence, they should go rafting. I’m an avid rafter and have been on several rivers, many within National Parks, and there is silence to be found. Out there, on the water, watching the birds fly overhead, hearing the woosh of a rapid–you don’t hear the city noise, you don’t hear the motor homes, cars and park visitors. Rarely do I even see other people. That’s the beauty of rafting through Teton National Park, or floating the Salt River or the Owhyee. It’s quite easy to be overcome by the loudness of silence in these places.
    So, while the article does raise awareness, I take issue with the comment that “it’s not easy to find silence in the modern world.” I believe that there are many, many (way more than, say, 12) places, especially in the West, where one can find silence. As Sandy Olson commented, these silent places do exist and I too am grateful to live and play among them.

  6. Harriete, thank you for the translation of Elijah’s encounter with God. Similarly, the proper translation of Job’s encounter with God is not “a voice from the whirlwind” but rather “the voice of the whirlwind”.

    Kathleen wrote, “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…”

    This captures the essence of the indigenous Vision Quest (or wildnerness rite-of-passage), which is an intentional encounter with non-human wildness and mystery to expand awareness and bring both power and humility. Gratitude is the prayer which answers the voice of mystery.

  7. This is a very perceptive description of a scarce phenomenon. I also would like to add a candidate for another Square Mile — parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area along the Minnesota-Ontario border. Once you are a day or two from your entry-point, especially when SEVERAL portages have been crossed, both the silence and the darkness are palpable and energizing.

  8. It’s not the silence that has made one square inch a sacred place. It’s Gordon’s (and our) AWARENESS OF and REVERENCE FOR that silence. That sacredness which fully involves our minds and hearts will be the ultimate salvation of the universe.

  9. Terry,

    While our awareness of the sacred will facilitate our own salvation, the emancipation from our egos will come only when we acknowledge that the Earth is sacred independently of our recognition, our comprehension or our actions.

    Only then, in selfless ritual relationship with the Earth and its power centers and silent spots, will we in truth assist the awakening of the Earth and the enhancement of the Uni-verse (the one song of which each of us are but notes).

    While the symphony might be a bit less harmonic in our absence or our continued ignorance, surely the Universe will manage with or without us and is hardly in need of salvation. It is we who need those silent moments and places on Earth to discover our holiness and realize our salvation.

  10. Let sacredness be in our own backyards. I hesitate to limit sacredness to unspoiled places as it allows us to continue to devalue all the other places. Our landfills and urban streams, our strip malls and highways need to be sacred ground too if less inspiring more in need of our attention.

  11. Steven Earl Salmony,

    What a long-winded, inappropriate and self-delusional apologia for science, the idolotry of modern humanity.

    The scientific method, as defined since Cartesian dualism rendered “reality” into two distinct realms, requires the objectification of the natural world. In spite of this, earnest scientific inquiry has occasionally revealed the inherent inconsistencies of scientific conceit, which is based of necessity on unquestioned and unquestionable “axioms” and “rules” of logic (which is presumed to be the highest function of the mind).

    Every one of the current global crises (including the loss of silent space) can be traced to a blind adherence to the objectification required by the scientic paradigm. A paradigm, as our conceptual atmosphere, cannot be challenged by its internal logic – and hence is not challenged when there is no other acknowledged method of understanding the world.

    The “specious illusions borne of ideological/cultural bias” that you condemn would no doubt include the indigenous cosmologies that allowed humanity to live sustainably for millions of years prior to our mass conversion to the religion of science, and to honor the Earth’s silent and sacred places.

    While honest enquirers into truth within the scientific establishment are using their findings to challenge that very establishment, humanity as a whole regards science – as do you – as the sole arbiter of reality.

    And to this we owe our impending demise.

  12. Dear Robert Riversong,

    Hopefully, we can have further discussion about our evidently different ways of viewing the world.

    Your comments are valued even though we happen to see things diffently. For the sake of open and sensible discussion, please note that my comments to which you have responded so forcefully are nowhere to be found in the thread.

    Perhaps the best thing for me to do at this point is the post again what I reported.


    Thanks to Scott Walker and everyone else for what is being communicated in the Orion Blog. At least to me, this work is vital.

    Scott, you are an honorable fellow. You neither hide nor are you willing to hide from empirical evidence. We need your example displayed in the actions of many other leaders who presently seem to be unwilling to communicate openly certain understandings about what is real and true to them. The science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth is a case in point.

    So far as I can tell, your work is helping people to see more clearly as it is the wondrous world we inhabit and to more deeply appreciate the miraculous beings that humans are.

    Of course, your reporting is occasionally off-putting precisely because the message from science that you bring us is apparently unforeseen, distinctly discomforting and most unwelcome.

    Reports of good science, when that science is new, is routinely difficult to acknowledge, much less address. But that is what we are called upon to do. Grasping good science and adjusting to whatsoever could be real is required of us, I suppose. If today’s leaders intend to provide a good enough future for our children, then nothing other than productive adaptation to the requirements of reality will do. It appears that the human community could soon have genuine, human-driven, global challenges to overcome.

    Despite all the efforts of denialists and naysayers, leadership has responsibilities to assume and duties to perform, just as you are doing, by urging the family of humanity to open our eyes and see what looms ominously before us on the far horizon. By willfully avoiding scientific evidence, we are losing the exquisite value found in one of God’s gifts to humanity as well as threatening the wellbeing of our children, life as we know it and Earth.

    Remaining electively mute in the face of good science related to the human overpopulation of Earth, the reckless dissipation of natural resources and the wanton degradation of the environment cannot be allowed to prevail. Even though reasonable and sensible scientific evidence comes into conflict with what our culture validates as real and true, still the evidence has to be carefully examined…. and not ignored. Is it possible that the standard for determining what is real and true in our culture is too often this: whatsoever is widely shared, consensually validated and judged to be economically expedient, politically convenient, socially agreeable is true and real? In that case, much of the scientific evidence found in the Orion Blog presents many too many leaders and opinion makers in our culture with evidence of inconvenient truths.

    Each culture presents its membership with much that is real and also much less that is illusory. From the standpoint of a psychologist, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it looks like an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is.

    It appears that cultural transmissions or memes generated within a culture may at times mesmerize human beings in that widely shared and closely held memes occasionally “produce” illusions of the world as it is. Some research seems to disturb us in basic ways because this scientific evidence comes into conflict with certain ideologically/culturally derived notions that are adamantly held by leaders about what it means to be human and about the “placement” of humankind within the natural order of living things. Unexpected scientific evidence of this particular kind is uniformly difficult for people to see, I suppose, because such evidence undercuts the ‘pedestal’ from which human beings prefer to hubristically look upon other living creatures and nature. We humans may introject biased and empiricially unsupportable cultural transmissions that confuse human reasoning and promote a certain cortical conceitedness which is not helpful when trying to see what is real. For a long time certain illusory memes appear to have been passed from generation to generation, distorting human perceptions and making it difficult for the human family to see scientific evidence for what is real about it.

    Scott, with your leadership and assistance, perhaps we will come to more fully appreciate the difference between specious illusions borne of ideological/cultural bias and evidence derived from the careful, skillful and rigorous deployment of science.


    Robert, at this moment I will not try to better express my ideas about how human beings are challenged in their efforts to see that which is somehow real, but that will come in my next posting in this thread.

    As you have pointed out, I can be long-winded. That is so. But to describe my report as inappropriate and self-delusional seems not quite right. Please explain.

    Comments are welcome from the Orion community.



  13. This is beautifully written and very thorough. I was deeply touched to see someone expressing the “extinction of silence” as I have written about this before, using that same phrase.

    When I was younger I lived many years in very wild and remote areas, Australia and other places. And when I returned to “civilization” I was constantly aware of the loss of silence; I still am. I also am aware of what silence can do for the human spirit. I don’t believe that we can live without it, not and fully experience who we are. Silence, like Nature, has a pervasive and automatic way of healing and soothing.

    I find it alarming that many people have never known true silence. And many are very uncomfortable with even moderate silence, and must constantly run a TV, Radio, Music, or talking on the phone.

    Silence immediately invites intimacy, not only with others, but more importantly with ourselves and Life.

    I often wonder what physiological and physical changes will occur in the brain, ear, etc. from our current state of constant noise, which is a relatively new thing in the span of human existence.

    Thank you, Kathleen, for such an important article. It did me good to read it, because it made me realize that there are others in the world that “see” and care. Also, beautiful writing.

    Thank you,
    Robin Easton

  14. Wow, what a great article. I can only say thank you. Thank you for bringing out into the forum such an important issue, perhaps as important if not more important than clean water. We should all walk with quieter footsteps in everything we do.

    I live in Washington DC/ Northern Virginia area and if anybody would like to further discuss the issue as it relates to this part of the country feel free to email me.

    I have to believe that there is at least one square inch of quiet somewhere on the east coast.

  15. An eye opening, I mean ear opening article. I personally think us enlightned people should kill about half the people on earth so it would be easlier to find that beautiful square inch or more humanly we should buy a Bose noise canceling earphones. As far as the animals that need silence; they got that way by adapting to the conditions they found themselfs in, they’ll adapt or die out, like 95 percent of the creatures that have lived on earth.
    Come on people wake up and listen to reality.

  16. Thank you for the beautiful article. I am a resident of the beautiful mountains of east Tennessee. Although we are cascaded at times with the sounds of our ever growing population, there are still many “square inches” to be appreciated and protected. Sometimes one must learn to listen, and record in our hearts the precious gift of nature. Teaching our children the art of listening should be the ultimate goal. Thank you again.

  17. A lovely thought-provoking article. How to find outer silence and inner silence and connect them both? A question for Quakers who search for the Source/Light/God in the Silence – and among others who also sit in Silence.

  18. Mardy Burgess on Nov 06, 2008 wrote:
    “A lovely thought-provoking article. How to find outer silence and inner silence and connect them both? A question for Quakers who search for the Source/Light/God in the Silence – and among others who also sit in Silence.”

  19. I’ve just returned from the profound quiet of northern New Mexico. And now I wonder if it’s silence itself that we value, or if the value lies in what silence allows us to hear — leaves blowing across paving stones, a raven’s wing slicing the air.

  20. From the desert fathers

    One day Abba Arsenius came to a place where there were reeds blowing in the wind. The old man said to the brothers, “what is this movement?” They said “some reeds”. When the old man said to them, ” when someone who is living in silent prayer hears the song of a little sparrow, his heart no longer experiences the same peace. How much worse is it when you hear the movement of those reeds”.

    I love silence with all my heart but it strikes me that it means different things to different people in different times


    I find it irresistible not to at least take a moment to wonder aloud about what Galileo is doing tonight. My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave. How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so many top-rank scientists refuse to speak out clearly, loudly and often regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human-induced, global predicament presented to the family of humanity in our time by certain unbridled “overgrowth” activities of the human species from which global challenges visibly issue now and loom ominously on the far horizon?

    Where are the thousands of scientists who have a responsibility to stand up with those who developed virtual mountains of good scientific research regarding overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species that are now overspreading and threatening to engulf the Earth.

    Perhaps there is something in the great and everlasting work of many silent scientists that will give Galileo a moment of peace in our time.

    What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo adopted a code of silence, speaking only about scientific evidence which was politically convenient, economically expedient, religiously condoned and socially correct?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  22. I suppose the writer’s initial proclamations of where quiet places exist (none in Europe or east of the Mississipi)was a writer’s simple technique to set up the reverence for The Spot; however, the stereotypes often evoked by writers lauding the American West to establish oppositionto all other places do not truly hold. For silence try the mountains of eastern Slovakia, the woods of northern Maine, or the black water sloughs of the Okefenokee in Georgia.

  23. The article on silence has precipitated much thought and sharing among colleagues. Yet it dawned on me tonight that life is about balance. The absolute absence of man made noise borders on religious feelings that fills a craving missing within humans. And yet there is human-made noise that is equally beautifully. The music we create is astoundingly beautiful. We’ve reached a population level where the bubbling of the best of us has risen to a prodigious level. Those on the right side of the bell curve have amazed the rest of us with noise that is beyond beautiful and miles pasted anything I might have imaged as a young adult. The balance between man made noise and absences of that noise is a balance I would hesitate to stray.

  24. I attended a photography of The Hoh River presentation yesterday at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, where I now live. We are a several hour drive from the Hoh.

    As a blind person,I quietly grieved being unable to see the photos, then a collesgue told me about Orion and this exquisite article. Thank you.

    It returned me to a favorite spot and brought all the images of silence I had heard the first time I visited the Rain Forest. After that vist, these two poems were borne:

    Hoh Rain Forest
    Silent symphony
    In the key of green
    Sweeps my soul
    Into stillness.
    – Dee Brauninger


    Old Growth Forest

    Tiny Douglas firs,
    Lined up along a nurse log,
    Wait in the forest duff
    For their turn to sip the sun.

    – Dee Brauninger

  25. I just hiked the AT, and I know there’s some silent places in New Hampshire and Maine, because I sat and made a point to “listen” to it. Same goes for northern Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, in the remote parts of the National Forests there.

    We even have some here in Michigan, way up north, anyways. Not that all man-made sound is bad, even in nature. We belong on this earth too. Of course I think most of us would agree it’s the ubiquity of our noise that’s the problem.

    We all need places like the One Square Inch. Remember Chuang Tzu: “Only what is still can still the stillness of other things”

  26. Silencing our noise in order to hear Nature speak is certainly an endangered experience – one that shouldn’t be so inaccessible that one has to go great distances to find it. With this in mind each time I hike with school kids I try to find a place along the trail where we can sit and be silent for 1 minute, just to listen. It’s been profound. Without such minutes how will kids know that it is lost? I’ve been inspired by a dear friend, J David Bamberger, who named his ranch, Selah, to provide a place to “pause, ponder and reflect” on Mother Nature. If we never hear her many voices how can we protect her from ourselves?

  27. Your graphic descriptions have had a profound effect on me. I actually visually and auditorially experienced something so powerful that I am fighting for silence for oldgrowth myself in all ways I can think of. Not that I dont have the odd breakdown because of the Noise.
    Might I ask insullations and contientiousness can be acomplished in some rural areas.

  28. A Seattle native now longterm resident in France, but new “Orion” reader, I read this article in my Paris suburban house. The double-glazed terrace doors open, I hear both birds and wind in trees, and regular passing traffic. As a musician, with years of trained listening to minute acoustic variations, the deafening, interminable chaos of a city like Paris is torturous. Bravo to the “square inch” project; even the memory of the Hoh River’s rich silence is a solace! And such silence is indispensable to our hearing that deep inner voice that can be so fearsome, but speak so true. Artificial, engineered un-noise is an inadequate alternative.

  29. As tires are the tongues of trucks
    To warn me from their way
    And trees give voice to wind
    A howl or sigh to say
    So do written words my mind possess
    And spoken words my heart caress.

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