In the visionary tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, One Square Inch of Silence alerts us to beauty that we take for granted and sounds an urgent environmental alarm. Natural silence is our nation’s fastest-disappearing resource, warns Emmy-winning acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has made it his mission to record and preserve it in all its variety—before these soul-soothing terrestrial soundscapes vanish completely in the ever-rising din of man-made noise. Recalling the great works on nature written by John Muir, John McPhee, and Peter Matthiessen, this beautifully written narrative, co-authored with John Grossmann, is also a quintessentially American story—a road trip across the continent from west to east in a 1964 VW bus. But no one has crossed America like this. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound-level meter, Hempton bends an inquisitive and loving ear to the varied natural voices of the American landscape—bugling elk, trilling thrushes, and drumming, endangered prairie chickens. He is an equally patient and perceptive listener when talking with people he meets on his journey about the importance of quiet in their lives. By the time he reaches his destination, Washington, D.C., where he meets with federal officials to press his case for natural silence preservation, Hempton has produced a historic and unforgettable sonic record of America. With the incisiveness of Jack Kerouac’s observations on the road and the stirring wisdom of Robert Pirsig repairing an aging vehicle and his life, One Square Inch of Silence provides a moving call to action. More than simply a book, it is an actual place, too, located in one of America’s last naturally quiet places, in Olympic National Park in Washington State.
Though many Americans may think their country abounds in places free from human interference, acoustic ecologist and professional sound recordist Hempton readily proves otherwise. Armed with sound monitoring equipment and a well-defined goal-to find a spot that has "no audible human noise intrusions of any kind for a minimum of 15 minutes"-Hempton drives his VW bus from Seattle to Washington, D.C., visiting national parks and other anticipated sources of silence. Along the way, he contemplates the intricacies of his vehicle, the decline in songbird populations and the effects of noise stress in hospitals, while filling readers in on the basics of audio science. From rural Montana, and what may be the nation's quietest town, to his final hike through the C&O canal, beneath Ronald Reagan National air traffic, Hempton's travelogue is filled with absorbing descriptions of the nation's natural treasures, inviting readers to consider the effects of rare silence against chronic noise, and the difference a single law, to "prohibit all aircraft from flying over our most pristine national parks," could make: "If a loud noise... can affect many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100 percent noise-free condition, will likewise affect many square miles around it.".