Posted by: csdailyblog | December 2, 2009

One Square Inch of Silence

Students of Jeff Rennicke’s Literature of the Wilderness class wear their “one square inch of silence” necklaces and bend their ears to listen to the natural sounds of a wild bog on the Conserve School campus. Photograph by Jeff Rennicke.

Chain saws, jet planes, beeping trucks, we live in an increasingly noisy world. Just ask Gordon Hempton. “Silence is an endangered resource,” says Hempton, a world-renowned nature sound recorder who has recorded natural sounds on every continent for everything from movie soundtracks to Nature Company in-store music. In 1984 Hempton cataloged 21 locations where he could regularly go and record 15-straight minutes of nature sounds without a single human intrusion – not a jet ski, not a leaf blower, not a mountain bike. Five years later, he went back and found that only five of those locations remained quiet enough to make a 15-minute recording. Inspired by the dwindling resource of silence, Gordon Hempton established an organization called One Square Inch of Silence. The Seattle-based group urges individuals to go out into the wilderness, appreciate the natural silence, and see if they can map their own “one square inch of silence”.

Jeff Rennicke’s “Literature of the Wilderness” class took advantage of a 3-hour Wednesday block period to seek the silence of the Sylvania Wilderness and the Conserve School campus. They hiked deep into Sylvania, stopping to listen to the sounds of winds in the trees, bird calls, the rattling of leaves and to discuss the meaning and importance of natural sounds and the silence of wilderness areas in which to appreciate them. “It was a great time to, as Sigurd Olson wrote, ‘walk in creative silence’,” says English Instructor Jeff Rennicke. “We slowed down, stood still, and really listened to sounds we usually take for granted. It was a great lesson in the value of wilderness as a silent sanctuary.” Their own attempt to find “one square inch of silence” failed when only a few minutes into the timing, they heard, from a great distance, the sounds of fans at the LAB. “We didn’t find it this time,” Rennicke says, “but we did open our ears to the issue and I’ll bet some of the kids set out deep into the remote corners of our campus seeking their own “one square inch of silence”.



  1. I read a Kerouac quote today and thought of this post: “Finding Nirvana is like locating silence.”
    — Jack Kerouac (The Dharma Bums)

    My favorite thing about some of these Conserve School blog updates, as well as about my communication with faculty of Conserve for all these years, is that I am still being taught, even after I graduated. It’s remarkable how long some of these ideas stick with you.

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