Sanctuaries of Silence

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Even the most remote corners of the globe are impacted by noise pollution



f you have been following my essays over the years, you would be correct if you sensed my passion for silence and solitude.  Indeed, just like the creatures in the forests and the mountains that I visit, I am profoundly adverse to human created noise. Noise can deeply affect my personal ecosystem. But, much more important, it has been shown that human noise can change the ecosystems of creatures who live with us on earth. I have summarized much of this in my blog essay entitled Polluting Nature With Our Noise .


My passion for silence is shared with acoustic ecologists Gordon Hempton and Bernie Krause. Hempton believes that even the most remote corners of the globe are impacted by noise pollution. In his 7 minute, virtual reality, 360 video “Sanctuaries of Silence,” join Hempton on an immersive listening journey into the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park. The Hoh Rainforest is one of the quietest places in North America. I strongly recommend that you view this video in the full screen mode.


Here are some of Hempton’s highlights from the video:


“Silence is on the verge of extinction”

“Silence is the poetics of space, what it means to be in a place. “

“Silence isn’t the essence of something, but the presence of everything”

“Silence is the presence of time undisturbed””

“I think what I enjoy most about listening is that I disappear.”


Authors Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, in their Emergence Magazine article entitled “Listening For Silence“, offer the following”


The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States. Situated within the Olympic National Park in western Washington State, the Hoh is protected from commercial logging and is a haven for old-growth Sitka spruce, western hemlock, coast Douglas-fir, big-leaf maples, and black cottonwoods. Far from trafficked roads and the unrelenting bellow of development, the Hoh remains one of the quietest places in North America.


Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton defines silence not as the absence of sound, but as the absence of noise from modern life. For thirty-five years, Hempton has been documenting the sounds of the Hoh and its many species: Pacific tree frogs, Roosevelt elk, northern spotted owls, the red-breasted nuthatch, Pacific wrens.


Listening through a microphone taught Hempton to take things in with equal value, without judgment. We were struck by this, and as we joined Hempton in this practice, we found that we were completely present in the landscape and deeply connected to the space around us. We were surprised by the intricate sounds of life, from the creaking trees to the cacophony of birdsong filling the forest. We felt attuned to nature in ways we hadn’t experienced before.


The simple act of listening to the natural world can profoundly impact our relationship to place, rooting us in a presence that we otherwise often take for granted.


We invite you to participate in a five-step practice of listening—an opportunity to experience place through sound. These exercises could be done over the course of a day, a week, a month. Try to listen without judgment and simply be present, open, and curious.”


  1. Where is the place you spend the most time indoors? Go to this place. It could be a room in your home or your office. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Spend 10 minutes with your eyes closed, listening to all of the sounds around you, nearby and far away. What do you hear?
  2. Seek out a public or urban environment—a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes, listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgment. What do you notice?
  3. Find a natural/green space within your town or city—a public park or garden or a tree in your yard. Close your eyes and listen for 15 minutes this time. How is the quality of sound different in this location compared to the location in exercise #2?
  4. Seek out a natural space, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This space could be a wooded trail or a meadow with a stream. Sit or lay down with your eyes closed. For 30 minutes, listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear in this place?
  5. Return to the place that you selected in exercise #1. Repeat the first exercise. Has your experience of listening changed? If so, how?


Worth Your Extra Attention :

Footage from the documentary “Soundtracker” A Portrait of Gordon Hempton

Quiet Planet video

He Hears Music in the Quietest Place on Earth—Can You?


Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.


If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.


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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

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