An Aural Hike Through the Hoh Valley Rain Forest: A Soundscape Meditation

Sunday, July 7, 2013 - 7:45am
Photo by Jonah Ellison

An Aural Hike Through the Hoh Valley Rain Forest: A Soundscape Meditation

For many of us here in the United States, the holiday weekend is filled with the cacophony of fireworks, the roar of parade floats and marching bands, and the laughter and chatter with family and friends. It's joyous fun, and I relish all the festivities. But there are times I long for the quiet of nature, the sweeping rush of winds across the grasses of the North Dakota prairies. And, now, because of Gordon Hempton, the sounds of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

If you've never heard this soundscape meditation, I implore you to listen to this aural hike to One Square Inch of Silence — with the chirping twitter of the Western wren and the haunting call of the Roosevelt elk:

"Good things come from a quiet place: study, prayer, music, transformation, worship, communion. The words peace and quiet are all but synonymous, and are often spoken in the same breath. A quiet place is the think tank of the soul, the spawning ground of truth and beauty.

A quiet place outdoors has no physical borders or limits to perception. One can commonly hear for miles and listen even farther. A quiet place affords a sanctuary for the soul, where the difference between right and wrong becomes more readily apparent. It is a place to feel the love that connects all things, large and small, human and not; a place where the presence of a tree can be heard. A quiet place is a place to open up all your senses and come alive.

Sadly, though, as big as it is, our planet offers fewer and fewer quiet havens. ...

In 1984, early in my recording career recording nature sounds, I identified 21 places in Washington state (an area of 71,302 square miles) with noise-free intervals of 15 minutes or longer. In 2007, only three of these places remain on my list. Two are protected only by their anonymity; the third lies deep within Olympic National Park: the Hoh Rain Forest in the far northwest corner of the continental United States. I moved near the Hoh in the mid-1990s just to be closer to its silences. In the Hoh River Valley, nature discovery occurs without words or even thoughts — it simply happens. Wondrously. But you have to listen.

And to do that, you first have to silence the mind."

If you can, be sure to listen with a pair of headphones or earbuds. You’ll discover quieting sounds you might miss without them. I promise! Download the MP3 and share it with your friends.


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Trent Gilliss

is the cofounder of On Being / KTPP and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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How wonderful to discover all we can hear when the noise settles.

Long, sound free intervals every night in the woods on San Juan Island.


Love this! The elk bugling and the red-winged black bird at the end were my favorites. The entire program was good!


Wonderful to hear this recording! I want to add a reference for those interested in Gordon's insight that we have extra-keen hearing in the same range as birdsong, and why that might be. Jon Young (his book is What the Robin Knows) has studied birdsong and what its roles would have been for people such as hunter/gatherers. It's a wonderful book about sitting in the quiet, listening to what birds are telling us about their lives as well as the environment around them.

In the 1970's, I used to wake up to the opening theme of Mornings with Robert J. Lurtsema on Boston public radio. Here is my remix as I remember it. The bird sound are from the original program. Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" was mixed in the same manner as Lurtsema did it.