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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Square Inch

It's not everyday that a book actually changes the way you perceive the world, but this week, I finished reading One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton and John Grossmann and I am changed. As I write, I am acutely aware of the periodic traffic passing outside; the whir of the laptop's fan; the roar of the crowd at the Olympic hockey game in Vancouver. I almost expect to sense parenthetical dBA measurements around me.

One Square Inch of Silence chronicles Hempton's journey from Olympic National Park, Washington state to Washington, D.C. in order to campaign for the protection of naturally quiet places in America. Along the way, he meets with a few like-minded experts and crusaders and reveals a vast, decentralized network of individuals who have come to same conclusion... quiet places at are risk. Additionally, armed with his professional sound recording and noise measuring equipment, Hempton draws attention to the wide variety of human produced noise that impinges on silence everywhere, from railways and interstate highways, to coal mines and high-flying airplanes.

As one might expect, some of the quietest places to be found are deep in national parks around the country, but surprisingly, the natural quiet is very often interrupted by jets far overhead or worse, air tours by small plane or helicopter. Apparently, the Grand Canyon is impacted by over 90,000 air tours per year, reducing the number of quiet moments to mere seconds at a time.

My favorite part of the book was reading about Hempton's visit to a secret location within the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I visited a different, but very similar part of that park a few years ago and was struck by the remoteness, yet even miles off of the closest highway, oil rigs pumped away in solitude. I'm sure that now I'd be completely aware of their impact on the surrounding aural landscape, despite their small geographic footprint.

I highly recommend this book for all of you who are concerned about environmental issues... I suspect you will be looking at a whole new type of pollution around you, one that may not be exactly novel or unknown to you, but one that you will be more conscious of in the days to come. Treasure your quiet places and if you desire to help Hempton's cause (or for more information), be sure to visit his website, onesquareinch.org.

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