I met Gordon “The Soundtracker” Hempton on a mild, Olympic Peninsula evening. He was getting a bonfire going near the bottom of his property, just outside of Joyce, Washington, where a grassy bluff sloped down towards a creek frequented by spawning salmon.
“You can hear them slapping against the water when they’re running,” he told me.
Everything relates back to sound with Hempton. He makes a living as an acoustic ecologist, recording the sounds of nature for placement in documentaries, zoos, museums and a host of other outlets. He’s also a pioneering figure in the quest to protect select national parks from noise pollution. It’s a thankless fight that has him up against policy wonks, the FAA – and by extension the airline industry as a whole – not to mention the masses who view “natural silence” (the ambience of the environment devoid of mechanized noise) as an unimportant issue in the face of greater global challenges.
I met with him to hike to a site within the Hoh Rainforest he’s dubbed One Square Inch of Silence, which according to Hempton is “the quietest place in America.” We got to that the next morning, but on the first evening we relaxed under the stars, cooked cornish game hens over the bonfire, drank one or two too many beers and listened to the creek babble and splash nearby .
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