December 29, 2016
Gordon Hempton —
Silence and the Presence of Everything

Silence is an endangered species, says Gordon Hempton. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth, as he knows it, is a "solar-powered jukebox." Quiet is a "think tank of the soul." We take in the world through his ears.

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is founder and vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, based in Joyce, Washington. His books include One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet, co-authored with John Grossmann, and Earth Is A Solar Powered Jukebox: A Complete Guide to Listening, Recording, and Sound Designing with Nature. He's also produced more than 60 albums of vanishing natural soundscapes.

Selected Audio

Soundscapes of Nature's Silence

We've isolated some of our favorite narrative sound treatments included in this radio show and podcast. Listen in (we strongly encourage headphones or earbuds!) as we pair these soundscapes with reflective passages and photos.

A Hike Through the Hoh Rain Forest: A Soundscape Meditation

Through the sounds of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, Hempton guides us on an aural hike to One Square Inch of Silence.

Sitka Spruce on Rialto Beach

Poke your head inside this giant driftwood log and experience a "surf symphony in the wild" as the surf plucks the wood fibers and cause them to vibrate like the strings of a violin.

The Poetics of Space Across Latitudes

An aural journey across three zones — from the Amazon and Central America to the temperate latitudes of the Great Northwest. The difference in silence will astound you.

The Listening Horizon at Dawn

Taken from his recordings of dawn in the Midwest U.S., Gordon Hempton uses this condensed audio to help people practice true listening in wide, open space.

Selected Readings

Selected Reading from "One Square Inch of Silence"

Sounds of Silence
"More than ever before, we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it."

A lyrical essay in which Gordon Hempton reminds the reader of what we can find inside ourselves through nature and how it makes us better listeners too. A must-read.

About the Image

Gordon Hempton records the winter silence of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park near One Square Inch of Silence.

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I heard you and Krista Tippet today, and identified with your passion for silence. As a centering/contemplative pray-er, who lives in the noise (and light) pollution free Adirondacks, your passion for silence affirmed that I am blessed.

My home on Stillwater Reservoir, at the end of an eight mile dirt road, boasting the highest density of loons in the northeast, might just rival the Olympic penninsula. Come... hike, paddle and sit. God fills those who do.

[Sorry, the railroad went belly-up, soon after the 1980 winter Olympics.]

Living on the edge of the Boundary Waters National Park in Ely, MN, I grew up with many moments in the woods. Standing still on my cross country skis feeling the crisp air on my face, soaking in that odd cool lovely quietness- as parents and friends push on ahead. Very precious time with something even as a child I recognized as nourishing. Walks almost daily in summer vacation along the old train tracks, my mother, neighborhood friends, bird song, crickets, the sound of a hot summer day- that life that's there. When listening to the radio program, as I heard the infamous calls of loons accompanied by lush frog song I knew how very blessed I have been. Much of my life, even to this day is infused with loon call and frogs. If u haven't been camping in the boundary waters area, make time. The key- you need at least 5 days- it takes 4 days for your mind and psyche to unload its chatter... The experience you will start to have afterwards will forever change you. You will come closer to feeling what we are originally designed to feel. How to truly listen to life. Your awareness of all that is pulsing around you will finally have the opportunity to expand.

I happened upon this conversation this morning, and this was one of the most profound stories I've heard and listened to in a long long time. The author and this topic of silence is a new area of discovery for me so I will be listening and reading more very very soon. What touched me was the truth of Mr. Hempton's well-founded observations. As a former Benedictine monk, silence has remained important to me before my stay at the monastery, during and in the years since I've left that life. The opportunities for self-reflection, discovery and sharing with others has always been important for me personally in this crazy world with its overwhelming push for more noise, more distractions. Thank you for sharing this wonderful conversation with a very real prophet for our times. I'm looking forward to checking out the website, the books and audio tapes of this author and i thank you for such a marvelous hour this early Mother's Day morning.

Recently in our yoga class we were asked to just sit and listen for a few minutes. Yoga listening, as in just be open to the sounds. Let them come in your ears, and be aware of them, but do not label, judge, go off thinking about them. I've meditated before, but it suddenly occurred to me that this must be the way traditional peoples listen. Modern hunters or even naturalists go into the woods to hear "something" . . . a particular animal moving, a bird call . . . Suddenly I imagined that people who are more in tune with their environment go out and listen. They are just open to it all as that's the only way you won't miss something. If you are trying to tune in on something, you're not aware of all the rest around you.
And this morning, you said it, Gordon Hempton. Awareness of the sounds and awareness of what we don't experience is important.

Even natives go into the woods listening for a particular sound. Imagine going hunting in the jungle, your sight can only go ahead to the next trees, which are only a few feet away. You must listen for the sound of what you're hunting: the pad of tiny hooves, the rustle of feathered feet, the leaf-litter clamor of a searching nose. Of course one's ears hear everything, but a hunter must single out the sound he or she is looking for, otherwise it's not really hunting, and your family is hungry, there's no time to waste just waiting for the sound you're looking for to happen by. Plus, don't you imagine a naive might have a favorite bird sound just as we "moderns" might? Why wouldn't native peoples have favorites and listen for those? Now also imagine that you're in a Central American rain forest and you hear the sound of a loud cough, and then a growl. How in tune might you be with that sound? Perhaps the creator is looking for you and is listening to the sounds you make.

Now I'm listening to you about train sounds.
It reminds me that I enjoy hearing the sounds of someone chopping wood, spinning -- basically, at work. Repetitive sounds perhaps, but not mindless. A human hand is guiding the action and you can feel/hear that. It's quite satisfying.
And yeah, I sure love hearing trains . . .

I am a former Minneapolitan who moved to Asheville for reasons I didn't comprehend at the time but, post hoc, I realize that one of the main reasons was for quiet. In fact, the sound of an airplane now startles me; an amazing thing considering I used to live under two flight paths. Now what I hear where I live, 25 minutes outside of Asheville, is the sound of a creek, horses in the meadow across the creek, a pileated woodpecker, my neighbor's wolf/dog howling at night. I rarely hear the traffic on the main road which brings me here, hidden, as it is, behind a slight ridge.
But there is one kind of "silence" that I miss from the Twin Cities—the "silence" which happens when snow falls. There is a change in the sound of traffic, indeed, in all of the modern urban sounds. Perhaps it was only relative, but the silence which the snow brought was so beautiful, and so welcome (as was the silence which came for a few days one year when Northwest Airlines was being struck).

Or don't we all remember that silence in the sky for those few days after 9/11?

Gunilla Norris who is a psychotherapist and practitioner of meditation has said that both solitude and silence are endangered species. I totally agree. I have to run a fan at night because of a loud drone from a packaging plant close to where I live. Maybe I should get one of Gordon's albums and play it through ear buds instead! I am a musician and have sensitive hearing. I believe that silence is the creative ground of all music. Just as Taoism says that the space within 4 walls is what creates a room, silence is the space between the notes that creates a song. I also agree that people are afraid of silence. I live alone and often do not play music and have no TV. In silence, I find I am able to allow anything to emerge including facing my mortality, something many are afraid to do. I have also had the experience of sitting across from a person and looking at him for 5 minutes in silence. That was a deeply intimate experience. The question for me is simply what is everyone running from which silence and solitude allow us to embrace. I don't know the answer to that question. Perhaps other spiritual teachers do. I very much enjoyed hearing Gordon talk. He has a rare depth of insight into the intimate dance of sound and silence. Thank you SO much. It helped make my Sunday beautiful. Sincerely Robin Riebsomer

Beautiful thoughts submitted by Robin Riebsomer... thank you.

I suspect you do know the answer! You found it to the extent you are able to face your mortality! I think it is in silence, darkness, emptiness where that confrontation takes place and brings us up short with who we really are, and that what we are and know now is forever changing. What is frightening for some can be awesome to others!

Excellent story. As a caver, I would submit that caves are one place that we have left that have a very long interval of silence. This is one of the reasons that we (cavers) so enjoy visiting such places. In a cave, one can experience silence so intense that it becomes audible and it presses in on one's ears. Visitors who are unaccustomed to such silence tend to giggle nervously in the silence. In addition to being silent places, caves are one place where we can escape from light pollution by experiencing total darkness. I would be interested to hear Gordon's comments and experiences about caves.

In the past, several years of volunteerism co-ordinating a watershed group culminated with two questions (of course leading to many others); How may the human advocate for nature gain momentum in the face of constant development? (my Mazon River is located in industrial agriculture anxious to sell off to development and near the path of the Transamerican Highway project) & Is there research to support the notion the range of nature's frequencies, particularly when a human is immersed in a biodiverse habitat, tune our chakras/clear our energy bodies? Could this information support preservation of wilderness?

I am truly touched as I am listening to your program right now with Christa Tippet. I live in Washington Heights, highest spot in Manhattan.People complain about sleeplessness. If it happens to me, I just enjoy listening. Night sounds. Cars, people, dogs, the traffic humming on the GW bridge. My favorite is the sound of the train whistle. Just like you say, it brings up images. I think about that distant lonely place some writers talk about, the childhood dreams and longings that whistle brought to them. Thank you.

I am back. Again listening to your show on "Silence" I am haunted once again by how your show seems to, well, not make any sense. How can one "record silence" How can "nature" be considered "silent"? I have been in some of the most remote places one can imagine and it is all one can do to fall asleep given the defining "noise of nature" In fact there is nothing "silent" at all about nature. Humans of course cause unbelievable "noise" but this is not always bad, the gentle drone of a distant locomotive when I was living in central rural Kansas was a sound that above most others, makes one feel the ultimate "aloness" and leads to introspection, self doubt, self awareness if you will. On a long driving trip, turn off the radio, put up the windows and sit listening only to the engine taking in what you pass. I know what he is trying to say...but there are many places in which one can feel these things.

Yes! Isn't it really just our own interpretation of the sounds that really matter? I just heard a raucous sound of a band of touring motorcycles pass my house in rural Vermont. They come by every summer. I could be annoyed by that loud noise that invades my quiet life, or I could wish them well in their journey and wonder about their individual stories as they pass my house and wonder if they wonder about my story! I also have a favorite sound - it's a strange one I think - but the passing of cars in the very early morning first light time of day seems to have a different quality to it than any other time of day and has always been a very comforting sound to me from the time I was very small. So is the ticking of a clock (or as in our house - many, many clocks) Different strokes for different folks I suppose. But I also must say I do love and cherish alone time both in nature and my own home or wherever I can find it. It's the ying and yang of being with yourself and with others I think!

For those who know an explanation is not necessary. For those who do not know, no explanation is possible. The explanation is within yourself. Find it and find yourself.

Krista, Your show on the last quiet places was great! I think it matched my all time favorite of Rumi.

I did detect a moment where you might have given the author short Shrift. He laughed out loud about it because I'm sure he had to fly, drive and then hike to the lonely spot to get his recording and You said, Yeah, yeah we all know about that." and he just laughed. None of us know about what he is really talking about until we sit way out there some place in silence.

Thanks a really good interview. One with great ideas and recommendations. thanks Rick LaValley

A: Today's story with Gordon Hempton was nothing short of spectacular. A perfect blend of science and religion, history and future, fact and fictional backstories. I LOVE to listen to NPR and almost always find it interesting. But your piece on quiet and listening had me completely spellbound. Thank you for sharing Mr. Hempton's story. I just returned home yesterday from two days in Las Vegas, where it is impossible to find a quiet spot. Not in elevators, not in restrooms, not in hotel rooms, not even in the "relaxing" spas. It is constant over-stimlulation of noise. In that context I found today's broadcast even more interesting and pertinent. I am now making plans to go camping far out in the woods and look forward to hearing beautiful bird songs many miles away. Thank you again for a wonderful, peaceful story. Quietly, A.J. Bus頎ashville

Quite honestly, I feel like I have been on a quest for silence my whole life although I was born into a loud suburban city. As a child, I'd compulsively lock myself in a quiet place whenever I had the chance- at school or at home or wherever I was. I could feel the trepidation in my parents and siblings or my colleagues when they'd approach the silence I consistently tried to be one with. After spending time in quiet places, I can understand how my entire being can embody the silence. I believe we underestimate the power of the auditory sense. True sensitivity- the sensitivity of being alive, fully conscious- can only be touched when the channels to both silence and sound are open.

I decided to replace my usual music playlist with On Being for my run this morning. Initially, I thought this show was a little removed from my current reality. However, after settling into the peaceful nature of this conversation, I found my own quiet space in my run. The show and my run concluded at the same time. I found myself looking across the sky and feeling the beautiful presence of silence. Great show.

I listen to On Being podcasts while on long drives, and while many have transported me, and made the miles pass painlessly, this program gave such joy. I want to share it and send the link to friends, and will persist until I learn how to make that happen.

My husband and I listened to this halfway through a camping trip on the Olympic Peninsula. It inspired us to spend a second night in the Hoh rainforest just so we could take another early morning walk around the Hall of Mosses trail and really listen. Amazing!

In the show Krista and Dave talked about issue of loving human-made sound (trains). I think this video really illustrates some of that - our work and movement and words as music and rhythm, and how beautiful they can be. Interesting how they are so simple, and often built on a blank, or near blank, canvas of quiet. !

Gordon Hemptom has great neural wifi. I could feel it in his voice. I could see it in the way my student worker stood next to my desk to do her work--which she's never done before. She couldn't hear what he said, but she could feel his energy, his frequency passing through me. She's normally quite distracted and giggly. Not today. I"ve seen the parrots in my aviary respond the same way when I'm plugged into my Ipod. They like the emotion passing through. They dance and squeal even though I'm the only one listening to the music. And then when I transfer the sound to the speakers for them but just sit there quietly to see what they'll do. They follow me and stay still.

I'm handfeeding my new 24 year old cockatoo to get him to bond with me, As he gets full, he mimics a Roosevelt Elk. That's it! It's not a whale song, it's an elk! I guess you have to hear it to believe it!

I sent a link to this show to my dad (and all my friends on Facebook). He's the one that taught me to listen to the silence. He also helped me see it's the emptiness you create that allows the whole world to blossom. Thanks so much for putting these ideas into words ... and sounds. Totally gave me the chills.

Recently I returned to port Townsend Washington after living on Kauai for two years. I have delightedin listening to your interview with Krista Tippet as I enjoy the quiet of my yard near Fort Warden State Part. While listening to you Hoh Rainforest recording yesterday I placed this I pad on my chest while ffully enjoying the sunshine on my lounger. Suddenly a Coopers Hawk darted
At me and looked at me square in the eye about one foot from my face fluttering for a few seconds. I wonder if there was a call from a Coopers hawk in this recording that summoned my startled visitor?

I will take a trip to t he Hoh Rainforest before summers end and thank you Gordon for the inspiration!

During the years of being a parent, I first discovered the necessity for silence, which allowed me to quiet my nerves and clear my mind that made it possible for me to relax. But I really began to appreciate the greater potential of living in silence
when I was a marine life artist/scuba diver from 1972 - 2006.

The ever-present sound of rhythmic breathing becomes white noise while the sounds of the current rustling algae or seaweed and animals (fish and invertebrates) filter through. The visual world of quiet colors including the vibrant colors of soft corals and other animals are softened add to the calming of the soul. When returning to the topside from that environ, I found myself searching for compliments to that experience. No longer a diver, my art is focusing on searching the depths of sights in my earthly environs that includes static structures. The joy from within has grown as I take time to reach within for expression in my art. Even when I'm struggling to grow in that area, silence helps me be in touch with my individual expression.

I look forward to On Being each week and it broadens my perspectives of the soul and the world.

I too loved this interview with Gordon Hempton, I have listened to it twice and will do so again. I am an introverted individual, and like others who have replied here, I often stay in my home with no other sounds. I did not own a TV after I left home until I was 29 and then I never hooked it up to the outside world. I had no desire to let the cacophony there inside my home. I love music and listen to it often, but many times I sit and read, or look out into the countryside in silence.
I was in the Air Force for 20 years and you can imagine the noise on an air base. Now, I am retired and live in the countryside of Northern Nebraska. My closest neighbor is a quarter mile away. I love the quiet here that lets me hear the rustle of small birds in the leaves, or the chirp of a lone cricket. I also love the unlit nights where I can see the Milky Way stretching all the way across the horizon.
In my life I have been many things and one of them is a caver and there is nowhere I have ever been that is more quiet, so quiet that I have actually heard my own heart beat, so I guess only the dead could ever achieve absolute silence. I used to clamber deep into the musky earth, wending through narrow passage that twisted and turned, and once I'd found the right place, I'd lay down on the ground and turn out the lights. The darkness and silence are both as complete as nature can create. There, wrapped in a cocoon of silent darkness. I would let my mind settle, like sediment in a puddle, until a clarity came upon me that was achievable no where else. Then I would just "be" for awhile and let the rest of the world rush by overhead.

Listened to this show last Saturday on my way to Canada to visit my fiance. Yesterday we were at Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, and we heard an elk calling through the forest! I never would have known what that amazing sound was had it not been for this show. We were enjoying the quiet of the wind rustling the yellowing leaves on the aspens, soaking in the sun-filled air in that majestic place. OnBeing podcasts have deepened my understanding of an appreciation for the connections between science and transcendence. Thanks!

I enjoyed this immensely, while listening to the podcast at work. It stole me away. The recordings of the elk in the forest was hauntingly beautiful.

Hi Krista and Gordon, I listened to your interview today about listening, I am a counselor and agree listening is a lost art, people seem to have already projected a thought when hearing a single word. Last week I spent in the sand hills of Nebraska assisting a friend walking across the panhandle from north to south. I am a bird watcher and birded while running support for my friend. One morning between Hwy 2 and Hwy 26, south of lakeside. It was so absolutely quiet that it felt as if I was hearing the voice of God speaking to me in the midst of the lack of sound. Matt

Gordon Hempton's auditory missives are simply fascinatiing. What a wonderful take on the world seen through sounds. Thanks for offering this.

This show started out interesting, but drifted and then plummeted into the arrogant and absurd. And, I'm one who loves the idea of preserving unspoiled natural spaces.

That said, calling silence an endangered "species" is similarly absurd to some social activists who a number of years ago described the population young black men as an endangered species because of violent crime. Neither is a species and in both cases the dumbing down of the word use just feeds into science ignorance of an intellectually lazy public. The absence of unnatural noise is a CONDITION.

Even worse, should we accept Gordon Hempton's ridiculous arbitrary and arrogant distinction between the rumbling noise of a passing freight train and the distant noise of tires rolling down the interstate because HE likes the sound of train whistles? He described it as a "message". The honking sounds of taxis in midtown Manhattan are also a message, i.e. "Will you get moving *#&%!!!". He, Hempton, might not like the message but it's the same message as the engineer telling anyone at the RR crossing to get out of the train's way. As soon as we make arbitrary, emotional "because I like it" distinctions between good noise and bad noise the conversation about natural and unnatural becomes a non-starter.

I agree with Rick's comments. Hempton has a lot to say, much of it quite valuable, but he struck me as a sort of "Johnny one note" I found his answer to Krista'a query about her son's absorption in the music he enjoys to be unresponsive, and I wish Krista had challenged him on his reply. That said, I prefer quiet in my home. I now live alone after many years living with another person, and I prefer the radio and television OFF. I will on occasion listen to a streaming broadcast from an NPR station which keeps interruptions of the music to a minimum. I think Hempton is right about a lot of things, but the interview all in all left me cold.

I don't know the man's history, so perhaps I am wrong, but Mr. Hempton seems to be another urbanite stating the obvious. Silence is endangered, and I applaud anyone who is working to save the quiet places and preserve peace where it exists now, but he comes off as arrogant. I hold that if there is Evil and if there is Satan, then Evil, as we think of the word in religious terms, is Satan blanketing the world in anthro-sound, and driving out the ability to hear creation. I do like that he is getting the message out about our vital need to hear creation, and that he has linked noise and light. It is so easy for regulators to dismiss "noise and light" issues when developers apply for a project -- yet where I live in Alaska, those are some of the top reasons why we do not want development to keep expanding into the wild places.

The portion in which you all discussed the way that humans incorporate the sound of their surroundings into their music reminded me of Neil Diamond's song "Beautiful Noise" because it starts, and ends, with honking horns and other urban noises, and the song is the process of making a tune out of it all. It's been one of my favorite Neil Diamond songs ever since he released it.

Beautiful. Closed my eyes to listen intently during listening segments. So sorry to learn Mr. Hempten is losing his hearing. So sad.

Mr. Hempton so echoes my own feeling and experience of silence and beautiful music and birdsong, birdsong, birdsong,
all of which fill my day and have become my sustenance in both good times and bad. This morning's On Being interview was mesmerizing and spiritual in the truest sense. I am distraught to know that he is losing his hearing, yet I know that he has had a life full of conscious and involuntary sound since the moment he left graduate school with deliberation. Thank you, Mr. Hempton.

As an audiologist, I am often perceived as a person focusing on loss and its effects. And that is true. My goal is to offset the effects of hearing loss. But my real fascination is the mystery and beauty of the human auditory system and how we relate to the world of sound. This program renewed my fascination and reminded me that 'listening is our source of security'. Not just relationship with talking persons but a relationship with our habitat. Thank you so much for another beautiful program. It filled my listening soul.

I was brought up in the Quaker Meeting so know silence well. At least I thought I did.
I am excitedly anticipating a recently awarded artist's residency that will take me to the "silent" sand dunes of Provincetown, MA. The proposal I submitted is to draw "silence". For many years I have been investigating the mark making quality of contemporary chamber music. This past year I started wondering what the "silent" spaces between the musical notes would look like. Thus, the proposed antithesis to this concept, silence.
I LOVED hearing this podcast..... more fodder for project. Thanks!

Thanks Krista and Gordon for this journey into a space that I rarely get to explore. Having dealt with tinnitus for some time, listening in silence has become more difficult. I try to relate the high pitch of my tinnitus to a forest full of cicadas and crickets,blended with recorded music to keep from going batty. Noise pollution has to be taken as seriously as air pollution, but most think of it as the price we pay for living in an urban environment.
I used your suggestion Krista and plugged in headphones during the broadcast. The ocean and the forest came alive in a way that was astounding.

Listened in amazement - notably the 'Sitka spruce symphony' - and throughout, found myself looking at the calendar to assure that this is July 7, not April 1.
This is just wacked. Can this guy really be real?
Clearly I'm in a minority here, but the segment on the placement of the cave paintings in France is such a stretch.
My God.

I just finished listening to today's episode of on being. I want to say, as a blind person, listening is so important to me. In so saying, when I wake up in the morning, even in my own house, I listen to the silence around me. I do this not only to take in each sound around me, but to listen to my inner being. When I listen to certain sounds, such as music, or the recordings of this show, for instance, I listen with my entir body, not just my ears. Let me put it this way, I feel certain sounds and vibrations. This is the case with music as well.

Today's program on silence described me to a tee. I love to be out in the woods and only hearing the sounds that nature provides. This is the greatest religious experience I can ever have. Words from another person cannot produce the words of silence and sounds that nature. Nature to me is the most religious experience that I can have. That is why I cannot get enough of being amerced within it. Thank you for inviting and interviewing this very thoughtful person. I will now seek out more of his writings.

How about Kay Ryan's poem "Shark's Teeth." It's a one minute version of this program

What I love about central Nevada is the absence of manmade sounds.

I am so grateful to have heard this interview. I know these words are true, "The quiet place is the think tank of the soul." I am very interested in reading more and learning about silence activism.
Thank you!

Hi, I was just wondering if there is way to get a readable copy of this episode? I would really appreciate it if it's possible, thanks!

Trent Gilliss's picture

Hi Anita. We do provide a free transcript for each episode of our program. Here's the link to this week's episode!

This brings up a similar argument from a different point of view.

Thanks James.
The TED talk by Julian Treasure was interesting, especially coming a little closer to the more urban issue of Domestic Tranquility but also for the ideas of sound dynamics, etc.
Both provoke thought.
John "Gusty" of Houston, Texas.

I love ted talks Its so true that we are so focosed on the future that we can enjoy our live in the present what a strange creature we are. The world is so beautyful we need to stop to smell the roses.

Please tell Gordon that as he looses his hearing he does not have to stop hearing the world around him. The hearing experience becomes less about 'first hand' listening and you learn to use modern tools like hearing aids and headphones.
I was born in 1956 and early in my childhood I contracted an ear infection; many ear infections. There was one infection that my mother could not control and we went back to the doctor (not a specialist, a family practioner in the neighborhood) who looked in my ear to see swollen eardrums. There in the office he 'surgically' punctured my eardrums to allow them to drain.
I don't remember much of anything about that procedure but I remember the following days of pain at the slightest sharp noise. An old spring closed, wooden screen door was explosive.
Move ahead to my 40's. I did not fully recover my hearing due to scarred eardrums. Men and some women in my father's line experience nerve deafness. I finally got a job with insurance benefits. My first hearing aid was primitive by todays' standard, but I felt a sense of childish wonder. I had heard bird song before but never this clearly nor this many. I have known the song of the Eastern Meadow Lark, our state bird, but I had never heard the whole song. Going back to the woods was splendid.
I was also overwhelmed. I felt I had to wear the aids whenever I was awake. There was so much sound. Appliances make so much, so many sounds. For several weeks cars that were several blocks away sounded as if they were going to run over me. And the dogs!
I wanted to hear my wife and my children and not ask them to repeat. Now I could hear them outside and upstairs and the neighbors also. I discovered I am not nearly as stealthy as I fancied.
I learned to turn them off. One day a week on the weekend I do not put them in for several hours. It was hard to return to the normal world of sound after thirty years. Quietness is good for mental and emotional health. Having these experiences helped me rediscover this. Thanks for your work. cam

Walt Kelly's Pogo walking across a log asks Albert the alligator, "What's the greatest sound ever heard?" Albert replies with reference to a very famous jazz piece. Next frame, close up full body of Pogo on the log arms outstretched, "no.... Silence.."
This strip adorned my refrigerator for many many years. A few too many moves, it's gone. I hope someone can find it. So far Google has not helped. It's worth looking for. HT

This was a lovely way to start a weekend day. I was on the way to a horse show, with lots of artificial sounds, but I found myself listening to the way the distant birdsounds of the early morning gave way to the footfalls of the horses. That other stuff? The trucks, cell phone rings, loudspeaker, shouting? Noisier than usual.

Thanks for an excellent show.

The episode might justly be subtitled, “Grace notes.” The winter wren, the Hoh’s echoing, Krista’s questions & Girdon’s observations wove a story of homecoming and belonging to silence that moved me to tears . . . . I couldn’t help but think of John O’Donnaghue and some of his thoughts on silence and solitude and homecoming. Anyhow, thank you for bringing healing sounds to my day.

Just hearing On Being tonight, July 8. I love this topic; I love the silence, and sounds, of nature. Also, I resonate with the idea of my church being outdoors, not in a building. Fabulous discussion. Thank you, Mr. Hempton and Ms. Tippett!

This interview really resonates.
I enjoyed many of the observations. Gordon Hempton is helping us to experience the joys of ephemeral treasures.

On the other hand, I disagree that "focusing (or listening for a specific sound) is a form of controlled impairment..." This sounds odd as he filters with headphones and a focusing-microphone to selectively pick and choose, like a real artist -I might add.

Although it is clever rhetoric, I also disagree with the oversimplified notion that
"Silence is not an absence of sound; it is an absence of noise."
This is convenient in order to romanticize sound, as in the poetics of trains..., etc., but less sound does contribute to the quality of quietude.

Also, do we really hear birdsong as mere "music"? Although music may be the language of sound, language is not necessarily musical; it may be appreciated for other qualities. This could digress into old debates of Form or Function, Substance or Style, Beauty or Truth…CONTENT or CONTEXT…

My focused thoughts are: Silence or Tranquility, Quiet or Tranquility, Nature or Domestic. There is mention of DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, yet the only ones who seem to be actively seeking it are those who are pushed over the edge. They foolishly end up incarcerated from resorting to physical action after some altercation due to fireworks, barking dogs, loud music, loud parties, etc.

  • Thanks for a very worthy topic; it deserves much more thought and consideration.
  • Sincerely,
  • John "Gusty" of Houston, Texas.
  • I wonder if your Olympic Peninsula is really quieter than the Coastal Redwoods? I totally agree with your commitment to silence, but it really is not silence, but rather the absence of man-made noise. I have connected to Bernie Krause (The Great Animal Orchestra) and wonder how your work intersects with his .I invite you to visit our ranch, a place Bernie deems one of the last bastions of unpolluted natural sounds. I think this might be an addition to your list of quiet places.


    This was a fascinating podcast - I'm really interesting in listening. Though I disagree with Hempton's illusive definition of silence. He tends to define it as it works for him. His definition isn't about silence, but about sounds that work for him - albeit nice sounds! (not man made). A person who for the past several years really has been studying and writing about and performing "listening" and who understands that some spaces that are less noisy than others (none are silent) - is Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Institute that she founded. Fascinating stuff - I recommend her and the institute to any person who is interested in "Deep Listening." I think her take on listening makes more sense, or at least is less biased than Hempton's view. See: (I also think Pauline would be an interesting interview for Krista on the show "On Being."

    I am in the quiet car on Milwaukee North Line Metra train to Union Station Chicago ... My favorite time of the day ... I am reading Eckhart Tolle's --Power of Now-- when I listened to this podcast on my Sunday Morning dog walk I was struck by the similarities of the message to find your self in silence and to find your self in the Now. That God is revealed in the one square inch of silence between the past and the future and how difficult it is to find that spot but once found it begins to expand and if you practice being mindful it can fill your entire being with light ... But there I was with earbuds listening it the interview missing the chance to be in the now with the birds and other creatures of the alleys I walk with my dogs ... But I have no other free time to listen to Krista ... Oh the choices we must make ... And I also love trains

    This is the second time I have listened to this show and am equally enthralled by the presenter and his work. Thank you for rebroadcasting this gem of an interview!

    Isn't it funny that you hear a wonderful show like this on WNYC.ORG, the NYC public radio station, on how we are STARVED for silence in this country ... and then later you hear (ad naseum) ads by but that say, "WNYC ... NEVER TURN IT OFF" and other ads that trumpet how you can now take ANYWHERE -- with the examples being the High Line (a park on an abandoned elevated railroad track in Manhattan) and some wonderful place of nature (the Grand Canyon?).

    I really enjoyed this episode. I am eager to seek out the silence. Where I live, in suburbia, there is very little of this (think lawn mowers and water pumps at 7:00AM on a Saturday). :)

    Good times!

    I saw the piece on CBS news and my heart broke. Please tell me how I can order this composit work that will help with your medical expenses.God bless you and your wonderful work.....Anna

    I didn't read it yet but I know it's brilliant . My beautiful 38 year old daughter is losing her hearing. I can relate to Gordon. Thank you for documenting your sounds. I am in touch with his mind!

    I've been going on day hikes on the weekend to get away from the city and debrief from the week. This past weekend I listened to this podcast during the ride up to Northern Michigan. I had goosebumps the whole drive listening to Gordon talk about silence. There's so much noise in my life. Not just aural, but electronic and emotional noise. I need more silence to stay grounded, and escaping into nature fulfills this need.

    This conversation was so uplifting. It was food for my soul. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude that people like Krista and Gordon exist!

    My dream from childhood on. As a perfect place would like to spend night in a small cave near rocks trees and lakes with wind m rain so I can just listen. Always thought of this since child now am 55. Maybe am not normal. One more thing on my list before I go

    In 2009, I led a day camp for teenagers at the Canadian Centre for Architecture called 'Slow Teen.' One of the highlights of a very rich (and fun!) week together was when we turned one of rooms of the museum into a camera obscura. The teenagers entered in silence and (without our having to instruct them) they stayed in that silence for the hour we were there. The peace was palpable, mesmerizing... and nobody wanted to leave that space.

    For anyone interested, I wrote a little about the experiences here:

    In the late 1970s I was told at the E.P.A. in Washington that my home state of Maine and the nation already had a noise pollution problem and it would get worse if nothing was done.The next year something was done. Pres. Reagon did away with the Noise Abatement Devision.My state does nothig to protect the natural sound environment.WHILE WE ADVERTISE THIS PRISTINE ENVIRONMENT,HARLEY FARTMOBILES CAN BE HEARD AT EVERY STOP LIGHT AND OVERHEAS VULTURE PLANES FLY ENDLESS CIRCLES TO NOWHERE.fOR DECADES OUR STATEd.e.p.HAD NOT ONE SINGLE NOISE EXPERT.nOW THERE IS JUST ONE DOWN IN THE MINING DEVISION.

    In Montessori Teaching, we practice the "Silence Game." To be polite, we use quiet words especially inside. Let the universe speak to us. Be quiet and listen.

    I practice sitting in silence before dawn when most of the environment around me is quit, barring the occasional electrical motor. In May 2008 there was a huge storm in Southern Illinois and our small city and several neighboring towns lost all power for 48 hours.At night especially the world became beautifully quiet an dark- and in fact we did not realize the level of everyday noise, until the day the system came back up and we suddenly felt the deep and constant hum of the power grid. One wonders the deeper ecological effect of all this constant hum upon our collective health and awareness, and Gaia's increasing response and search for corrective balance. Perhaps, these storms carry another message:what if you all take a completely Silent Day or to start, A Moment when everything is turned OFF?

    I had a 15-year opportunity to watch a 22-acre wooded property in rural Ohio, where I could be alone with only the sounds of the birds, weather, etc. When I hear he birds of the eastern woodlands, I feel completely at home.

    thank you I'm realizing that we have come a new place in history and we have been coming here all along love watching the great coming down and absent the opinion in fear of our demise there is simply the witnessing of nature scouring the planet as it occasionally needs to do.

    Thank you for your work. Like Louis Armstrong said: The music's the silence between the notes: Two short poems for you:

    In the Garden In the Evening

    The birds are silent, except for one
    who cocks his head and sings to the sky
    from our rooftop antenna; we listen,
    sip cool wine, talk of the day;
    fireflies play hide and seek in the honeysuckle;
    the city settles down to a summertime hum.

    Each minute brings a change:
    gray clouds blow north to east,
    a breeze flutters the roses--darkened now
    from afternoon’s red-pink to nighttime’s deep
    red-crimson; those windows,
    beyond our old green fence--first
    cool rectangles of yellow light--have turned
    to the golden heat of candles.

    A ships’ horn, mournful and long,
    yes, I did hear that, and from the house
    my daughter’s lonely footsteps walking
    room to room; then a sweet high voice
    rings through the hurrying dark: “Daddy,
    Daddy, Daddy,” it giggles, “your beard,
    your beard--it tickles! “

    Even as we sit and try to put
    an order to our lives, to find new places
    for old heartaches, they rise up inside,
    like the bird, who on some whim,
    lifts his wings and flies away midsong.

    Guitar in the Garden

    Woody smell of old strings on fingertips;
    birds listen, whistle, listen.
    You’re here, too. I play so quietly, you say,
    clicking on a long string of colored lights
    to make the ferns silver up.
    Your blossoms in their little pots, like the tall oak,
    all still now; neighbors laugh through wooden fence.
    A plane flies east past the crescent moon;
    won’t be long till we say: What, full again?

    Reaction Reflection and Resound

    Thank you for Listening to the Quiet..

    The Quiet in You is the Quiet in the Whole Universe Prayer

    Ms. Tippett, now that was on being! This interview was the second most inspiring interview I have heard in a long time. Thank you. (The first was last week!) There's a point in between speaking of faith and on being at a place in the world, in the universe, in nature, where it all comes down to just being aware of everything, all at once, without interpretation, without judgement, without thought, that revitalizes and reorients me. Thank you, again.

    I live in the country not too far from a major airport. I recall the day after the destruction of the twin towers when airspace was closed. When I walked outdoors, the silence was palpable. I remember saying to myself, "I don't remember when it has been so quiet, no background manmade hum". I enjoy music and the spaces between music. That moment some years ago helped me appreciate the true value of silence.

    I "live" in NewHampshire, and "listen" on Mt. Cube. The silence is deafening and edgy but the peace it brings profound. Not unlike a conversation where what is truly important is often what is not said, in the forest it is what is not heard.

    I would love to have the list of the 12 silent places still left in the United States. I hope one is here in Maine which is my home base.

    Gordon: My dogs love the sound of presence as much as I do. They sit by the computer, listening.

    Meanwhile, i am new to your site. Do you speak anywhere of the sound of the Universe? The buzz i hear when i become quiet with silence.

    The search of silence is a wonderful and perhaps necessary preparation for prayer. Otherwise it's kind of empty.

    Love the Gordon Hempton program. It reminded me of a time many years ago when we visited Carlsbad Caverns. I craved for silence so I could listen to the water dripping from and onto the rocks. It was not to be. I was extremely disappointed. Maybe another time. Again a great program.

    I think silence freaks most people out in this day and age while others fret to find it. I found it on the beach at 1770 earlier this year. It was wonderful. But the last time I heard silence was at a homestead west of Toowoomba beyond the range of traffic and cities.

    I was delighted to listen to this episode about Gordon Hempton and his work, and was further pleased to hear how much he treasures the peaceful quiet he finds in Hawaii. I feel the same way. Even on busy O'ahu, I rediscover this quiet every night as the world settles down to sleep. Even night creatures communicate on frequencies outside our human hearing, and what remains is the gentle music of a breeze in nearby trees and a muted murmur of distant surf. Of the many things I love about Hawaii nei, this experience is right near the top of my list.

    I don't think I taught my children the sound of silence--the free and easy sharing of the same space in loving peaceful silence. Hence, shouting usually set an edgy bitter silence. I am so glad to hear from Gordon Hempton that it takes intentional effort to achieve harmonious silence.

    Wow. Natural sounds and silence from industrial sounds is powerful.

    I listened to this on my way in to work - a 70 min commute from Poway in Northern San Diego to Laguna Beach, CA. We had rain last night, and snow of all things in the mountains surrounding Escondido and Camp Pendleton. There were dark beautiful clouds still overhead, something I truly love because they remind me of Portland, OR where I spent a good deal of my childhood. Every soundscape that you included in this interview rekindled memories that had not been accessed in quite a long time. They were grand memories, and I don't think I can properly thank you enough for creating such a beautiful thing to listen to, I will share widely, and find the quiet spaces as recommended.

    My awareness of quiet reflection in this life rests in memory upon the back of a horse, sitting, western-style, in the Catskills one summers-day at the age of thirteen. On-being becomes a re-visitation toward unearthing that need for reflection in this life. An absence of sounds, other than the connection to the silence of forest leaves crackling underneath the hooves of that healing animal blends into the moment, evoking the sense of infinite love.

    Listened to this while cycling out into the countryside this morning. I was struck by the layers of irony of listening in a quieter place to someone pleading for more silence, blocking my own acoustic ecology to do so.

    Your comments reminded me of discussions with a philosopher of eastern thought. Attention to surroundings and being in those surroundings are a major part of simply being alive, of being in the present. Our cultural evolution deprives many of this experience. We are alive but never have lived.

    Yes we are all cought up in the future and dont focus on the now this where life happen now the future is in our minds.

    In 1990, I sailed single handed from Beaufort, NC to Ireland--23 days. After the third day, when I had overcame seasickness and loneliness, I was filled with a sense of presence so intense, so real, that I would inadvertently speak to it. And though I cannot recall ever feeling estranged from What Is, I have never felt more complete in It.

    Thank you for sharing this, we forget wht joy nature sounds can bring us. Listening to birds sing is so relaxing to me.

    This was an influential podcast for me and I have since delved into the topic of recording natural soundscapes. So thank you. Here is a link along the same lines that others may find interesting.

    I actively seek silence. I need it to get through the day. I've gotten to the point that it dread going into public places because of the streamed in music, the TVs everywear, the cell phones, the chit chat, the giggling and loud talking, I thrive in silence and the sounds of nature. I don't want the sound of the wind to be drowned out by the latest pop star or a tv commercial.

    I just listened to the Hoh Rainforest Recording. It sounds like there is choral music or something added to it, something with a melody? Is that correct? If so, then doesn't that negate the purpose and effect of the recording?

    I've read about you and your experiences in the WA Olympics before and am wondering what you've heard about the Whidbey Naval Air Stations plans to fly their very noisy Growlers over the Olympics for training.

    I love this podcast on silence. I think, though, Gordon Hempton diminishes sight when he suggests it's an "affordable luxury". Just because most beings/species can see does NOT mean everyone SEES! Seeing takes focus and understanding too, like listening - and the more focus and understanding given to seeing the more great a gift it is! Thanks to you all for for alllll the podcasts. I love OnBeing.

    A train whistle as a performance! YES! Just this Christmas eve, early in the morning, I was sitting quietly in my kitchen and I could not believe my ears... first I heard the train approach, then the engineer played Jingle Bells on his whistle! What a treat he gave so many of us - if we were listening!

    Growing up in Oklahoma - I greatly appreciate the sound of "grass wind" and often try to empathize with pioneers as they adjusted to the new surroundings - the sound probably affecting them more than they knew.

    Thank you!

    This was delightful! I'm also a military brat, who lived in Hawaii. For years, I've casually recorded the sounds of nature wherever I live. Thank you so much.

    In a recent reflection on a quiet person who had died, there was a comment; "Sound, should always be an improvement on silence". It provides a perspective on the "noise"in our lives and the value of quietness, a valuable condition for reflection.

    Having spent 2016 learning how to hear, trust and act on my inner voice, I particularly resonated with what Gordon's statement that, "Listening for all animal life, at least for higher vertebrates...Listening is our sense of security." (at 39:37 in the recording)

    I believe this is why meditation is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture. We are learning that it is by slowing down and creating a space for stillness that magic happens. Part of that magic is watching as our true self to begins to emerge.

    This episode inspired me to take my listening even further, particularly Gordon's challenge not to listen for the purpose of identifying sounds in a particular location, but to listen to the place as a whole.

    Listening to Gordon Hempton's soundscapes was a wonderfully reflective way start to my new year's day (2017) without the intrusion of the usual suburban sounds/noises attendant to my life. It took me me, briefly, to the quiet of the NH lake I am fortunate to periodically enjoy throughout the year.

    Thank you for your work and thoughts Mr. Hempton, and thank you for introducing me to him on your program Ms. Tippet. I have since downloaded several soundscapes, but I am wondering if there is a specific recording I can obtain that includes the excerpts of the Hoh River, Roosevelt Elk and the rainforest itself that played during the interview. Perhaps it is on the One Square Inch of Silence recording available at Sound Tracker?

    Thanks very much.

    I found it interesting that rap music was situated as countered to or opposing music, musical tones or even a reproduction of environment or a natural environment. I'd be interested to hear or know why rap music is positioned that way as if it is in some way more artificial than rock, jazz or classical music. Drumbeats, bass-intense rhythms are natural. I hear them in natural settings, not as disruptions to them.

    Melissa Duffy's Thoughts and Theories JA 3 2017


    95% of what moves and influences our universe is invisible! (NASA's estimate.) This 95% consists of dark matter and dark energy.

    Dark matter, dark energy, and black holes are not only present in outer space, but also profoundly shape and influence human societies and interpersonal relationships as well. These processes are as natural as a waterfall, birdsong, or a hurricane.
    For some of us humans, the unspoken nuance, expression, meaning and intention booms at us louder than the spoken word. Having this awareness and sensitivity can be confusing and confounding, for such knowing is usually discounted, denied and negated in Western culture.


    On a sub-atomic level there is a unified field, and we all participate. Divisions are only visible on a macro level where matter is seen as solid. Matter in essence consists of particles and space.
    Everything in nature, in the universe, including humans, consists of light, waves, particles as well as invisible energy/invisible matter (Unknowable Mystery.) Our bodies are the 'exhaust' fumes of stars, sometimes shimmering and sparkling, sometimes fainter particles.

    The night before my mother's death I dreamed of sitting beside a vast river that had different tributaries. In the late evening of her death, light from the evening sun flooded onto my body and felt so marvelous. The light also snaked up my mother's bedridden body as she laboredto breathe. Her face, the only exposed part of her, remained in shade.
    During her final moments, a river of light energy particles was present in the room. This carried her in a slow, flowing steady way from life into death.. as if her body was like a boat taking her upriver.
    We are Universe.

    Part IV: SOUND

    1. Everything that exists has a unique sound frequency that can be understood as a form of music. Each human, plant, rock, wind, sunset etc. has a unique sound signature. We can each be identified by our sound signature.
    2. Sound emerging from different organisms may not be able to be heard with human ears. These sounds can still be perceived by some, not by others, as a vibration emitted or as colors and shapes.
    3. Each organism and object's intrinsic sound is alive, ever shifting, expressing essence in responses to unique conditions of the moment. For example, the sounds of a brook is ever is shaped by the space or density of matter surrounding it. Sounds of water are altered when there is a bend in the river or when water crosses over a rock or accelerates down an incline etc.
    For humans, a person's sound signature is an expression of their essence, their personality, and this signature is also 'tuned' differently based on physical attributes such as body size, shape, temperature, movement patterns and bodily processes.
    A person's thoughts feelings, moods, level of physical activity, interactions with other people/organisms also impacts their sound signature.
    Many influences shape tempo, phrasing, range of timber etc.
    Sometimes the person's sound signature may be like a bird soaring or high vaulted cathedral ceiling, with a sense of breadth and fullness. Other times, a person's sound signature is small, delicate, very quiet.

    4. There is continuity to an organism's sound signature, even as there is also continuous shifts, like moving sands beside the incoming tide. There is reoccurant expression of main themes tones, rhythms and phrases. This can over time to be heard as a symphonic piece. Most such include the wide range of life, with notes humorous, melancholy, tragic, upbeat, slow, deep etc,

    Part V: Physicicts who inspired my thinking:
    1. This week physicist Vera Rubin who discovered dark matter in 1952 died. Dark matter is only observable by it's gravitational effects on other objects.

    3. Last August, Jeff Steinhauer successfully simulated a black hole in a lab. Some of the sound actually re-emerged from this black hole, altered. It became very altered, entangled with sound being sucked into the black hole.

    After a tragic and life altering event I went from my home in a large city to a small island in the Pacific Northwest. The very small cabin in which I lived for over a year, alone, was a blessed haven that brought Life back to me. I was surrounded by trees and water. I had to take a ferry to buy groceries and other than that I was alone. The silence not only brought me incredible peace but took me deeply inside the parts of myself that I think of as holy. I found the courage to live permanently in that self and truly appreciate each moment as the gift it is. Thank you for bringing this to awareness of so many people.

    Simply FABULOUS.
    Thank you