Am in a state of high-alert with regards to auditory observation ever since picking up One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet by Gordon Hempton and John Grossmann.
“We’ve reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life-style changes. More than ever before, we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place.”
Last night I made a bed for myself out in the garden, and slept there, with my never-sleeping ears (there are no ear lids. Ever considered that before? Vision is something we can turn off, hearing is not.) curiously on the prowl for traffic noise, insects buzzing, birds chirping, leaves rustling, my own breath from my steadfast inhalations and exhalations.
“If asked to choose my favorite sound in the world, I doubt that I could do that easily. If forced, I might say it’s the dawn chorus of songbirds, the sound of the rising sun as it circles the globe. But that would disregard the murmur of winged insects as heard over many square miles in the Kalahari Desert, and if that were my favorite sound, that would ignore the hoot of an owl and the way it bounces off the cypress trees in Louisiana, and also ignore the clang of a church bell after it has echoed down the narrow stone streets of an Austrian village. If I had to supply a single answer to that question, my favorite sound in the world would be the sound of anticipation: the silence of a sound about to be heard, the space between the notes.”
I even downloaded a sound meter (actually – two, giving completely different results!) on my IPhone, having finally started to understand decibels and auditory measurements. Thanks to this book, I’ve got something to calibrate sound levels against as Gordon in a pedagogical manner jots in current decibel measurements for whatever it is he’s experiencing, giving me something of a map to help me navigate. Also I’ve gotten an understanding of the profound difference in restricting noise versus preserving quiet. Two completely different perspectives, that I’ve never given any thought to before. But now I do.
“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”
And as I read, I remembered my recent weekend visit at Mundekulla. Walking down the narrow graveled road from the building where we had the course I was taking, to the dining hall where my room was also situated, I noticed the silence. Profound. Peaceful. Powerful!
“Silence seems to make music from everything, simply by isolating individual sounds, allowing the sounds time to form temporal relationships. Music is made out of rests and notes. Quiet times and exciting times, silence and sound. We need them both. More than any other sense, hearing unites everything.”
Now, after completing my read of One Square Inch of Silence, I more fully understand why the experience of quiet (which, in Gordon’s definition, means the absence of man-made noise, rather than no sound at all, an important distinction) holds such power over me (us!).
“Our public gathering places, for sports, literature, learning, and music, are intentional spaces, highly structured, and thus result in somewhat contrived experiences. Whenever I visit them I’m reminded of the vital importance of preserving places outside of human intention, unspoiled wilderness areas, places where we might regain sensory balance and learn from the unscripted, unedited, unenhanced, raw opportunity of nature.”
This concludes my third encounter with Gordon. You see, I first stumbled upon him while listening to On Being some years ago, an episode I highly recommend. My second run in with him was when we took a family vacation to Seattle and Vancouver in 2016 – with me being adamant to cross the sound to visit The Olympic Peninsula, which I would not have necessarily insisted upon, had I not listened to that podcast. While we were there, we took a day-trip to the western shores. En-route back, we stopped at Fairholme General Store along Lake Crescent, where they had a few copies of One Square Inch of Silence at the counter. So besides buying ice cream and two T-shirts, we also left the store with this book, a spur-of-the-moment piece of shopping of which I am truly grateful.
The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2018, to read and blog about 26 Swedish and 26 English books, one book every week, books that I already own.