Water is softly cascading through pebbles, mist rises in the early hours from the treetops, with moss and lichen of all types of green covering the forest. Serenity. What is one thing many of us overlook when connecting with nature? Sound. And more directly, noise pollution in quiet places. Preserving One Square Inch of Silence is a short film about a factor often missed when considering conserving the natural environment. Sound can be a wonderful avenue for connecting with nature. It can create memories, profoundly influence experiences, and also be so poetically subtle one may not even notice it around, despite it always being there. That is until the “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP,” of a reversing vehicle chimes in.
It is difficult to find places that are free from unnatural sources of sound. According to Gordon Hempton, a “sound-tracker”, the most threatened type of sound is silence. Hempton has circled the earth 3 times in the last 35 years searching for the rarest natural sounds. He is an Emmy-Award winning sound recordist who in 2005 focused his journey on discovering the quietest place in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park. The search brought him to one square inch of space deep in the forest.
Great Big Story is the media production company who put this short film together. They are a global media company devoted to telling stories through cinema. They focus on creating and distributing micro documentaries and short films of all types. Visiting their website you will see subject headers of Human Condition, Planet Earth, Frontiers, Flavors, and Origins. In this short story following Hempton they bring up a new perspective on conserving wild places.
Gordon narrates us into the “cathedral” of the Hoh Valley Rain Forest. According to Gordon the quietest place in the contiguous U.S. is one tiny square inch of space. In the film he marks this with a rock roughly one cubic inch in size and places it on a soft bed of pale lime-green moss. Hempton’s mission is to preserve the integrity, serenity, and quietness of this space.
“I don’t know if I can save silence, but I know that I can try.”
– Gordon Hempton, The Sound Tracker
Pointing out that noise pollution is nearly inescapable, Gordon connects us with an issue we experience all the time but may not even be aware of. It has become so engrained in our daily lives and reality that it is just simply a part of life now. However, in remote places of wilderness, quietness can still edge out an existence. On Earth Day in 2005 Hempton hiked up the Hoh River Valley in a search for his serenity. As he explains in the film it took him 3 miles to escape the noises of the parking lot. Then, considering where to travel next in his search Gordon discovered a trail.
Elk seem to enjoy quiet places like he does. Gordon whispers to the camera the “spot” is through the split base of a massive tree and into the woods a little further. We’re on a quest, with Gordon as our guide, who is then guided by the elk who seek out some of the last remaining places away from human intrusion, this time not by forest destruction, or hunting, but by means of sound.
Hempton uses proactive words like “defend” when describing how he monitors the tiny square space. You gain the sense of his personal connection to this area, but also his passion for capturing and protecting sound around the world. He conducts both noise and quiet monitoring in this space. When Hempton experiences a noise intrusion, he proactively identifies and sends a letter to the noisemaker asking for compliance.
“Within 10 years it is likely there will be no quiet places left, unless we take action.”
Although it is unclear what parts of the world Hempton is referring to with this statement, the message remains the same. Quiet places are vanishing from the planet and something needs to be done. Hempton feels compelled to protect this quiet spot in the Hoh Rain Forest. As he explains in the film,
“I did not think silence would go extinct in my lifetime.”
Gordon bridges the gap between quiet places and other parts of conservation by pointing out that wildlife will be devastated when quiet sanctuaries are gone. Noise pollution can be a major factor in wildlife habitats on land, under water, and around the globe. It is another factor adding to why we should fight to keep natural places around, keep them wild, and protect what we still have. Conservation has so many issues facing it and now we are thinking of one more.
Gordon started the One Square Inch of Silence Foundation with a focus of protecting the quietest tiny space. This foundation is pressing politicians to pass a piece of legislation to make Olympic National Park the world’s first ‘quiet park’, off limits to air traffic. You can connect with their effort by visiting their website, joining the email list, and learning more about their work. We now have another reason to fight for keeping places wild and free from human intrusion. May this not be another daunting factor keeping us away from conservation effort, but another source of inspiration as to why getting outside to wild places is a powerful experience and why they are well worth protecting.
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Tags: conservation, Gordon Hempton, Great Big Story Media, Hoh Rain Forest, OneSquareInch, SoundTracker, wildlife conservation