Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch

hemptonwithheadGordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, a sound recordist who has spent his working life recording sound and developed a sense of the intrusion of human generated ‘noise’ into the natural soundscape.  The One Square Inch project is a consequence of his search for quiet places.  He aims to maintain one point of quiet, without noise intrusions in Olympic National Park.


In 1984 he identified in Washington State 21 “quiet places” which did not include human noise intrusion, but by the early 1990s only 3 of these remained. He estimates in the lower 48 of the USA there are only 10-12 quiet places left.

The simple principle is that if the project can maintain one square inch of quiet, with no unnatural noise intrusions, this forms a starting point for the preservation of quiet.  His attitude to silence is simply put:

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.

Hempton challenges us to close our eyes and listen to the world you live in.  After only a few seconds you will hear this “lack of true quiet, of silence”.

It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it. By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves.

In a blog post in On Being, entitled Sounds of Silence, Hempton wrote:

The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague.” So said the Nobel Prize-winning bacteriologist Robert Koch in 1905. A century later, that day has drawn much nearer. Today silence has become an endangered species. Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions.

In the same blog post, he writes:

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It lives here, profoundly, at One Square Inch in the Hoh Rain Forest. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.

Silence is a sound, many, many sounds. I’ve heard more than I can count. Silence is the moonlit song of the coyote signing the air, and the answer of its mate. It is the falling whisper of snow that will later melt with an astonishing reggae rhythm so crisp that you will want to dance to it. It is the sound of pollinating winged insects vibrating soft tunes as they defensively dart in and out of the pine boughs to temporarily escape the breeze, a mix of insect hum and pine sigh that will stick with you all day. Silence is the passing flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches, chirping and fluttering, reminding you of your own curiosity.

LINKS for George Hemtpon

Photo from ExploreGreen