This article is one of a series dedicated, this month, to Silence. Silent nights, silent snowfall, silent prayers and wishes and warmth. An invitation to pause, listen, reflect, and be grateful.
Shh. Be still. Listen, just listen. Take a walk, in a forest, if you can. “Walk so silently that the bottom of your feet become ears.” Walk till the cars, machines, voices and radios and TVs and planes and clocks disappear.
Walk till you reach a square inch located in the state of Washington, on the West Coast of the United States, in the heart of the Hoh Rain Forest. You will know it by the small, red stone placed on a moss-covered log. When you reach that square inch of space, stop. Do not move anymore.
Listen deeply. Can you hear it? Quiet your thoughts, assumptions, your reflections and expectations. Just be present.
You are in one of the world’s last natural quiet places. One Square Inch is a sanctuary for silence, created by Gordon Hempton. It is the first initiative in the world to protect and preserve silence, a precious and increasingly rare resource in our noisy world.
Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who has circled the globe three times over the last thirty-five years, in pursuit of “earth’s rarest nature sounds—sounds which can only be fully appreciated in the absence of manmade noise.” Walking silently with a 3-D microphone that replicates human hearing, he has been immortalizing the silences of hundreds of places.
“Silence is the poetics of space. What it means to be in a place… Silence isn’t the absence of something, but the presence of everything.”
Natural sounds, according to the theory of biophony, do not compete with one another. Each has its own bandwidth. Together, like a symphony, they create the magical, unique, irreproducible silence of a place.
To be in such a place, purified of any noise, to be aware it… “we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves.” Silence brings us home to the essence of who we are. We need it to hear, to know ourselves through reflection. From there, to make meaning of our lives. “The creation of meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human.”
But silence is on the verge of extinction, possibly in as little as ten years, because of noise pollution. “There is not one place left on planet Earth that is set aside and off limits to noise pollution,” says Hempton. The impact of that is calamitous. “[Noise] interferes with the cycles of mating animals, disrupts call and response patterns ecosystems use to coordinate themselves.” Noise strands whales on shores and forces birds to migrate. It increases stress levels, hypertension, irritability, the risk of cardiovascular disease, and anger in humans.
“Silence is part of a global biofeedback system, telling us to quiet down, slow down, and become part of all that’s happening around us.”
What if, this month, we listened?
What if, this December, this busy month of sleigh bells, church bells, Hohohos, parties and carols and honking in traffic jams, we were silent for a moment? Our own minute, or five, or ten, of self-reflection. We do not have to go to Hoh Rain Forest in Washington. We do not need to embark on quests to mountaintops, go on retreats in remote monasteries. We could create our own square inches of silence, here.
Wherever here is, whenever now can be. What if we tried to listen to the poetics of the time and space of our present?