Keeping the Silence

Written by Eric Bennett

In our modern world, with the constant hum of social media, the buzz of technology, and the incessant roar of traffic, the elusive quality of silence is fading away. This loss of silence, both metaphorically and literally, is not just a human concern—it has profound implications for the environment. The cacophony of machinery, traffic, and electronic devices not only increases stress and disrupts our concentration but also emits inaudible ultrasound and infrasound, severely affecting animals, birds, insects, and even plants.

As someone who has spent the better part of my life in the wilderness, seeking solace and connection with nature, I've come to appreciate the profound impact of true, unbroken silence. It's not just about escaping the noise; it's about finding a space for inner reflection, creativity, and a deeper connection with the natural world. This realization led me to focus more on the value of silence in both my photography and writing, inspiring my second book, Space, Stillness, Silence: The Solace of the Desert.

Apart from trying to convey the importance of natural silence through my photography, I began searching for more ways that I could be an advocate for its preservation. Earlier this year, I discovered the work of Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and author of One Square Inch of Silence. Hempton embarked on a journey across the United States to record soundscapes, revealing a startling truth—the scarcity of places untouched by human-generated noise. Even in seemingly remote locations, the intrusion of passing airplanes significantly diminishes the quality of their natural soundscape. 

Miraculously, he was able to protect the silence of a large section of the Hoh Rainforest in Washington state, by convincing airlines to redirect their planes taking off from the nearby airport. He designated the epicenter of this 60 mile radius, marked with a small white stone, as “One Square Inch.” Later on he founded the conservation organization, Quiet Parks International, in order to protect the natural silence of more places. 

As I was reading Hempton's book while backpacking in the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains last year (2022), I became acutely aware of the airplanes flying overhead, even in some of the most isolated areas. Determined to take action, I reached out to Hempton when I got home, initiating a collaboration to perform a volunteer study and protect the natural silence of a pristine mountain range that I hold close to my heart.

The preliminary study that I performed this past summer (2023) involved assessing the current sound levels of the mountain range, hoping to meet specific criteria that would make it qualify to be designated as an "Official Quiet Park." This included documenting a fifteen-minute interval of undisturbed quiet during the most critical time period for wildlife—beginning two hours before sunrise and ending one hour after sunrise—on three separate mornings. Despite challenges like passing airplanes, adverse weather conditions, and curious marmots and pikas, the area passed this initial examination, marking the beginning of a more extensive study scheduled for the following year (2024). The goal is to at least maintain the current sound level of this remote wilderness and potentially advocate for increased protection down the road.

Silence, which was once taken for granted, has become an extremely rare and precious resource. While technological advancements like electric vehicles may offer some relief, the increasing presence of power plants, factories, air traffic, and tourism threatens to fill any void they create. Without substantial changes in our approach to conservation, protecting more than just the aesthetic beauty of wild places, the complete disappearance of silence could become a reality just within this century.

Recognizing the value of silence and the urgency to protect it, we must take proactive steps to ensure its preservation. It's not just about finding refuge from noise but acknowledging the profound impact of silence on our well-being and the health of the planet. In our pursuit of progress, we must not forget the importance of preserving the last few quiet places that allow for contemplation, mindfulness, and a harmonious coexistence with the natural world.

If you are interested in learning more, you can read this more detailed article on Eric’s website:

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