Silence. I know I could use more of it. I know I'm not alone.
Despite that, true quiet is getting harder and harder to find, as John Balzar writes in the Los Angeles Times:
Quiet is going extinct.Read on and you find out that, by Gordon Hempton's definition, he has found only seven or eight quiet places remaining in the United States. None in Europe. As recently as twenty years ago, when he started his work, he was able to find a lot more such places.
These thoughts turn over in the mind as you explore one of these few quiet places left in North America [Hoh River, Olympic National Park, Washington], perhaps the quietest of them all. Your guide is a man who has given his career to listening and recording the pure sounds of nature — and searching for meaning in what they convey.
He has become one of the few Americans to raise his voice on behalf of the vanishing quiet.
Naturally, your purpose here is to inquire about the value of this timeless thing that is slipping away without … well, without alarm, without a sense of loss, without broad public discussion. But something else occurs along the way. When you enter the realm of quiet to ponder it, the quiet awakens in you a missing bond with the natural world. The quieter the surroundings, the more — and the better — you hear. The world around you expands into a three-dimensional place.
No need to strain. Just listen.
That is the autumn sound of yellowed maple leaves falling from the tree and settling on the forest floor 50 feet away. It is a sound you've never consciously heard. More to the point, it is a sound you didn't know you could hear.
At last, at a place marked by a red stone and a spruce with a hollowed-out trunk big enough to walk through, [acoustic ecologist Gordon] Hempton turns left off the trail. He picks his way over downed trees, through a squishy salamander bog and up a bank to a glen of mighty conifers. He sits.
A glass candy jar, resting on moss under a log, is the only sign that humans have ever been here.
"Welcome to One Square Inch," says a label on the jar.
Hempton chose this place to make a stand.
If he can stir up a ruckus, maybe the right people will listen and the National Park Service will officially designate just one square inch of this park as a place of absolute quiet. One square inch of quiet, of course, means miles and miles of buffer — essentially securing the natural soundscape of the entire park.
A simple idea. Turn off the generators in those RVs, reroute the airline traffic going into Seattle, forbid private planes overhead, and plaster the visitor center with posters reaffirming the mission of our national parks: to preserve nature as it was, quiet included.
What is Hempton's definition? "[W]here the sounds of nature are unbroken for intervals of at least 15 minutes during daylight hours." 15 minutes is the length of the 'sounds of nature' recordings that he makes.
Qutoed in an August Seattle Times article, Hempton says, "Whenever someone tells me they know a quiet place, I figure they have an undiagnosed hearing impairment, or they weren't really listening. Most people believe they know what natural quiet is, but they have not had the experience; it is not the same thing as sitting in an empty theater, a church, a library. We spend our lives in containers. Cars. Buildings. Planes. Natural quiet is in open, living space. It's alive."
As I walked through the natural, open, living setting of Government Canyon State Natural Area last weekend, just outside of San Antonio, the silence seemed deafening. Surely there must be more than a handful of quiet places left in the U.S., even by that definition!
Yet just as the impression of profound quiet hit my brain, the drone of an aircraft miles away pierced my ears.
But Government Canyon is so close to a major urban area. It's hardly surprising that it's not truly quiet, right? Certainly there are places out in west Texas, in those wide open, empty spaces, just an afternoon's drive from here, where it is still quiet. Certainly!