FORKS, Wash. — True, natural silence is a rare thing.
Gordon Hempton has devoted his life to preserving the places where silence reigns supreme.
"We cannot listen through the noise to hear the faint and meaningful sounds," he said. "But we can when we visit our purest natural environments."
As an audio ecologist, Hempton has circled the globe to capture recordings of Earth's most endangered soundscapes.
"And I thought I was a good listener. But I was wrong," Hempton said. "Whatever I'd figure out, it would be through listening."
In 2005, he ventured to one of his favorite places, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.
"I've always thought of Olympic as the listener's Yosemite."
He searched. He measured. He listened. And he marked the spot he calls "One Square Inch of Silence."
"There was more than quiet at stake here," he said. "There was actually a cultural need for a place that was recognized."
"As you walk through the quiet of the valley and each step along the mosses and the drapes and everything, you'll feel yourself become quieter. And the world, that urgent, distracted world behind you, does get left."
Eighteen miles from the nearest highway, a couple hours down a very muddy path, and through the trunk of a Sitka spruce, there it is, what may be the quietest spot in America, marked by a single rock placed on a fallen tree.
"Something very profound and magic happens."
But this one square-inch of silence isn't silent at all.
"It is sonically the most diverse of any of our natural park units, and there are over 400 of them," Hempton said.
Removed from the roar of humanity, you can hear the planet's whispers. Wind ripples through tree limbs; birds sing gentle songs; a stream flows over rocks.
"When the water flows by the stones, it's given a voice," Hempton said. "Ask the quiet how you can help. And the quiet will answer you."
The quiet needs our assistance, which is why Hempton founded an organization called Quiet Parks International, working to create and protect many more square inches of silence.
"When we save quiet we save so much else."