Monday, August 03, 2009

One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World

"Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything." So says author Gordon Hempton, acoustic ecologist, in the prologue to his new book One Square Inch of Silence (now on the new book shelf). Hempton's early work for the book was considered by another author promoting stillness during the June 13, 2003 edition of Living on Earth. Richard Mahler, author of Stillness, pointed out that "clinical studies confirm that stillness may also lower stress and blood pressure while promoting a sense of happiness and well being." Yet silence is vanishing from our lives and from even the most pristine wilderness. Gordon Hempton warns that the "unchecked loss of silence is a canary in a coal mine -- a global one. If we cannot make a stand here, if we turn a deaf ear to the issue of vanishing natural quiet, how can we expect to fare better with more complex environmental crises?"

A sound disc accompanies the book, so you can listen to the sounds of silence or the "silences of nature." I did, on one of the wonderful new Macs in our public computer area, which has remarkably good speakers. Twittering birds and crickets were clearly audible in the silence of a western preserve; then, the unmistakable rumble of distant traffic blurred the edge of birdsong. I suggest you try this without the distraction of multiple computers and the ever present hum of lights and the HVAC system in the science library - even in the middle of summer, without another soul in the library, it is not a peaceful silence.

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