Sanctuaries of Silence

Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee

Are there any truly quiet places left on the planet?  As “The Sound Tracker,”  acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has  circled the globe three times in pursuit of Earth’s rarest nature sounds—sounds that can only be appreciated in the absence of man-made noise.  

In the recent documentary, Sanctuaries of Silence, Hempton takes us on an immersive listening journey from the city to “the quietest place in North America,”  Olympic National Park in Washington state.  This reserve encompasses several different ecosystems, from the dramatic peaks of the Olympic Mountains to old-growth forests. It’s one of the few places we can get a glimpse of  what nature sounds like without the usual human interference.

The experience will immediately slow your breathing and your heartbeat. It’s Nature’s Xanax.  And the equivalent of a four day Zen retreat. 

Our daily lives are devoid of silence because we place no limits to the cacophony of commerce. Each day our hearing is dulled by the jackhammers and pile drivers, the traffic and turbines, the buzz of helicopters and the sonic boom of jet engines,  the irritating ring tone and the constant blaring of the radio and TV.

With this highly sensitive microphone, Hempton show us what silence really means and why we need it to enter the calmness at the heart of nature. He asks what it means to come to our senses. To perceive the world with our bodies acting as an echo chamber.   

The director of this aural feast is Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, an Emmy nominated filmmaker, composer, and Sufi teacher.  His work has been featured on National Geographic, PBS’s POV, The New York Times Op-Docs, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside Magazine, Within, and exhibited at The Smithsonian. Vaughn-Lee is also the founder and executive editor of Emergence Magazine, a quarterly publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture and spirituality.  

Together these men explore how sound affects our emotions and grounds us in a sense of place.  As you listen to the sounds of the city, the falling rain, the shifting tide,  the woodpecker—you will recall the forgotten language of nature, discover the quiet within yourself, and begin to map your consciousness in a whole new way.  

Our advice:  Take that elusive silence imposed upon us by the pandemic as a gift.  On your daily walk, forget the earbud,  Notice how your mind attunes to the underlying music of creation–the soughing of the tress, the arias of the birds, the hushed patter of the rain, the whisper of a breeze.       

“Silence is the poetics of space,” says Hempton.  “It’s not the absence of something. It’s the presence of everything.”   

“Silence is the presence of time, undisturbed.”

“What I enjoy most about listening is that I disappear.”

You can also download  Hempton’s recordings: Cricket Thunder,  Global Sunrise, The Ocean is a Drum, and The Earth is a Solar-Powered Jukebox.  Here’s a bonus track of Forest Rain.  

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