Nature’s Silence Is Golden

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Yesterday’s post, linking to an article from the same source, combines with this one to confirm that some venerable members of the “mainstream media” see an audience (us, for example) for green-leaning reporting. Then we found this, about a remarkable Norwegian silence-hunter who has gone to the ends of the earth; and now finds himself in the East Village of New York City. Instead of featuring that story, this one below is must-read on the topic of quietude:

Lessons in Stillness From One of the Quietest Places on Earth

In the wilderness of Washington State’s Hoh Rain Forest, a poet searches for the rare peace that true silence can offer.

THE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK stretches down coastal Washington and east toward Seattle on a thumb of land known as the Olympic Peninsula, some 60 miles long by 90 miles wide. Around a three-hour ride by car from Seattle, it feels much farther, as if you have passed into an otherworldly realm. Within it are volcanic beaches scattered with the remains of massive Sitka spruces, evergreen-crowded mountains, broad, flat valleys and the Hoh Rain Forest, through which 12 miles of hiking trails and the glacier-formed Hoh River run. The Park, in total nearly a million acres, is home to what may be the most complex ecosystem in the United States, teeming with big-leaf maples, lichens, alders, liverworts, Monkey flowers, licorice ferns, club mosses, herbs, grasses and shrubs of remarkable abundance. Today, thanks to federal protections, it is home to some of the largest remaining stands of old-growth forest in the continental U.S.

It was an unusually warm and sunny day in August when I arrived in Washington. I was walking the grounds of my hotel in Kalaloch Beach, less than an hour’s drive from the rain forest, when I heard another guest call out. “Whales!” he said. “Do you want to see some whales?”

I climbed up into the gazebo beside him and looked where he was pointing, at the vast, pounding ocean. A delicate spout of water breached the air. And then another. And another. And then — a fin of an orca arcing over a wave.

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Green and brown moss adorns the towering big-leaf maple trees on the Maple Glade Trail, which is surrounded by a field of sword ferns. Credit Mitch Epstein

“They’ve been feeding all day,” he said. “I was down there watching them for the past hour. I’ve never seen them like this.”

I hurried down to the beach. The dark gray sand was velvety and warm. I walked past beached jellyfish and oyster shells and the slender bones of sea gulls. Before me was nothing but ocean — no ships, no airplanes, no buildings. The huge noise of ocean and nothing but ocean was profound, a silence in its own right, which seemed odd as I thought about it — how can noise feel like silence? Perhaps because its quality is continuous, soothing, allowing immersion. Listening, it seemed I was on the verge of some feeling or fresh understanding. As the sensation crested, a huge orca lifted up out of the water, baring its smooth gray back, and for a moment I felt its weight settle on me.

A NEW CHILD, A SICK FATHER — I’d had a year that drained me emotionally and physically in ways I had no words for. My father had been diagnosed with advanced lymphoma when my son was three months old; unable to care for himself, he came to live briefly with my family in our apartment in Brooklyn. After months of chemotherapy he was better, but those days, weeks and months had been harrowing, hectic ones of visits to the doctor, calls to the insurance company and searches for food that might appeal to a finicky patient, all while caring for an increasingly needy baby. I was behind on a book that required a lot of careful reflection, and I, too, was recovering from a long illness. When I returned from a monthlong work trip with my son in late July, I was exhausted, unwell and snappish. I desperately needed some quiet. At my husband’s urging, I flew to Seattle alone.

Along with being one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, the Hoh Rain Forest is also one of the quietest places in the U.S., according to the One Square Inch project, run by the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has worked over the years to preserve the Hoh’s quiet (for example, by requesting that airlines remap their flight patterns). Here, the absence of sound is complete. There are indeed few planes crossing the vast sky overhead, and on the less populated trails I walked during my visit I saw few other tourists or cars. Around me, the sun filtered through dense canopies of leaves, and mosses hung, beardlike, from Sitka spruces and Douglas firs, turning the landscape into a Seussian fantasia. Sword ferns, their leaves delicate and precise, formed coronas at the base of the massive spruce trunks. (A less martial mind might have named them after Victorian feather hairpieces rather than weaponry.) Twelve to 14 feet of rain fall here annually, and the plant life is monumental: I was immersed in a forest’s cathedral stillness…

Read the whole story here.

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