Whisper in the woods

While hiking in Olympic National Park, put your ear to the ground or just sit and listen and you might hear something new.

That's what acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton from Joyce does for a living and he encourages people to change their thinking on listening.

"Even as natural as listening is, people have forgotten how to do it," Hempton said.

"But when they rediscover it, it becomes obvious to them."

He'll be speaking on this and reading excerpts from his book "One Square Inch: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet" on Thursday, April 8, at Peninsula College.

The 30-year sound recordist has traveled the globe recording natural sounds that are being eroded in treasured places like national parks.

Precious parks

He believes Olympic National Park is the purest acoustic environment and least sound-polluted area in the nation.

During daylight hours, the park can be void of non-natural intrusions for up to an hour, Hempton said.

He's established a gold standard - with the park at the top of the list - where an area must be void of transportation and intrusions for at least 15 minutes.

Commercial aircraft disrupt many of the national parks as often as every five minutes; only 12 of the parks meet the gold standard, he said.

Olympic National Park is quiet because of its rural location away from major airline traffic, its cloud protection and because fewer than a dozen air tour companies operate in the area, Hempton said.

Emmy-award winning acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton will speak Thursday, April 8, at Peninsula College on his quest to make the Olympic National Park a no-fly zone for commercial airplanes. He records sounds across the globe, which are available on iTunes and through his Web site  Photo by Cheryl Fuller

One Square Inch

Hempton started his nonprofit One Square Inch to protect the natural soundscape in Olympic National Park.

He is working to:

_ Pass legislation stopping airlines from flying over parks, starting with Olympic National Park

_ Create awareness of the economic value of quiet

"Noise is toxic. Quiet is going to offer more tourism than any air tourism," Hempton said.

"People value quiet and protect it. It's not just soul soothing but economically viable.

"We have quiet that other places don't."

His belief is that if Olympic National Park became a no-fly zone, that concept would spread to more parks across the country.

Hempton believes if an aircraft can affect several square miles, then a single square inch of land without noise pollution would benefit a large surrounding area.

"If we are to preserve this precious acoustic environment forever, we need a single piece of legislation that creates a 20-mile-radius no-flight zone around Mount Dana," Hempton said.

"This would make our park the first national quiet area and the first no-flight zone for civilian purposes."

Working with a $2,000 grassroots budget, Hempton said he is gaining momentum and airlines are beginning to cooperate.

Some pilots are angered by his efforts and tell him he has no right to limit their flying.

"You have the whole rest of the world to fly over," Hempton said.

"I'm not against flying; I

fly 70,000 miles a year."

Better listening

When asked the best way to become a better listener, Hempton says to take preschoolers on a night walk because they'll point to all the sounds.

"(When they start school) teachers teach them how to listen, but it is controlled impairment," he said.

"True listening is taking it all in. But doing that - even in downtown Port Angeles - is dangerous - but in the national forest ...."

Hempton believes most people would be turned on to listening just by recording sounds with a microphone and tape recorder.

"They'll be amazed," he said.

"I think I'm one of few people to listen intentionally in so many places."

Peninsula presentation

At Peninsula College, Hempton will discuss his cross-country journey in his 1964 Volkswagen bus detailed in "One Square Inch."

"My goals were to listen to other Americans about the value of quiet/silence, seek out places that are still free of noise pollution and meet with officials in the 'other' Washington to lobby for the preservation of Olympic Park," he said.

Hempton will share book excerpts and sound recordings from Yosemite and Rialto Beach.

During the trek, he took more than 5,000 photos and sent and received 2,000 e-mails.

"It was a massive undertaking," he said.

Hempton encourages people to keep an open mind and ear at the presentation.

"Everyone there will hear something they've never heard before," he said.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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