One Square Inch of Silence
One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet
Publication Date: March 2, 2010
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In the visionary tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, One Square Inch of Silence alerts us to beauty that we take for granted and sounds an urgent environmental alarm. Natural silence is our nation’s fastest-disappearing resource, warns Emmy-winning acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has made it his mission to record and preserve it in all its variety—before these soul-soothing terrestrial soundscapes vanish completely in the ever-rising din of man-made noise. Recalling the great works on nature written by John Muir, John McPhee, and Peter Matthiessen, this beautifully written narrative, co-authored with John Grossmann, is also a quintessentially American story—a road trip across the continent from west to east in a 1964 VW bus. But no one has crossed America like this. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound-level meter, Hempton bends an inquisitive and loving ear to the varied natural voices of the American landscape—bugling elk, trilling thrushes, and drumming, endangered prairie chickens. He is an equally patient and perceptive listener when talking with people he meets on his journey about the importance of quiet in their lives. By the time he reaches his destination, Washington, D.C., where he meets with federal officials to press his case for natural silence preservation, Hempton has produced a historic and unforgettable sonic record of America. With the incisiveness of Jack Kerouac’s observations on the road and the stirring wisdom of Robert Pirsig repairing an aging vehicle and his life, One Square Inch of Silence provides a moving call to action. More than simply a book, it is an actual place, too, located in one of America’s last naturally quiet places, in Olympic National Park in Washington State.
Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist and Emmy Award-winning sound recordist. For nearly 25 years he has provided professional audio services to musicians, galleries, museums, and media producers, including Microsoft, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery, National Public Radio, and numerous other businesses and organizations. He has received recognition from the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. He studied botany and plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin. His sound portraits, which record quickly vanishing natural soundscapes, have been featured in People Magazine, a national PBS television documentary, "Vanishing Dawn Chorus," which earned him an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement.” Hempton has now circled the globe three times in pursuit of environmental sound portraits. His new audio series--Environmental Sound Portraits--is the first new work to appear in more than a decade. He lives in Port Angeles, WA.
"After a while we begin to sense that it is silence that is our greatest teacher. The interval between musical notes. The pauses in a play or speech or conversation. The awe-inspiring cloisters of our civilizations. But it is in nature, as this wonderful gem of a book reveals, that we find the real blessing of silence." -- Ken Burns, filmmaker
"This superb book by the world's finest listener will change forever the way you hear both the natural and unnatural sounds of our planet. Hempton's continent-wide search for peace and tranquility in the music of nature is a cause to which we should all rally." -- Donald Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds
"America's magnificent landscapes define us as a people and shape us as a nation -- they feed us body and soul. Conserving these lands, and the silence they afford is one of our greatest national challenges. Hempton has done us a great service by calling us to action -- saving one square inch of silence should not be a spectator sport." -- Lawrence A. Selzer, President and CEO of The Conservation Fund
"Silence is the wellspring of creation. A feast of silence is the only way into the understanding of nature. To listen to silence is to expand the spirit and cure the soul. Gordon Hempton takes us by the hand to visit this idea in his One Square Inch of Silence." -- Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest
"Visitors to America's national parks come for peace and inspiration. But as Hempton shows, this fundamental experience is increasingly rare. Hempton does a fabulous job of detailing the challenges facing the National Park Service and the politics of noise. This is an important book for all nature lovers." -- Tom Kiernan, NPCA President