Gordon Hemtpon poses for a portrait on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, at Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula.
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Gordon Hemtpon poses for a portrait on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, at Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The hunt to find just one square inch of silence

Gordon Hempton’s office is at the top of a creaky set of stairs of an old building in Port Townsend, a small town on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.

The title on his door reads “The Sound Tracker.”


Water flows through moss and rocks on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
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Water flows through moss and rocks on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


He’s a larger than life man who likes a little peace and quiet. More accurately, he’s obsessed with it. Over four decades, he’s dedicated his life in search of natural silence – places devoid of human cacophony.

It’s a tough business: We people are a noisy lot, especially when we’re using the air or roads to get around.

Hempton said right now it would take four or five weeks to find a new quiet place and three or four days to record it. “If I came out with 15 minutes of pure nature that would be a goldmine,” Hempton said.

D30579ca5e0add7c6579be979cf908c5 mp4 thumb 00001.png?ixlib=rails 2.1 Video Icon 3 mins
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Credit: KUOW Video/Megan Farmer


The practical side of his life’s work is selling his recordings to film and video game companies –office space isn’t free, after all.

Now in his 60s, the man obsessed with listening who has been an advocate for quiet places has a problem: He’s losing his hearing.

“It is hard to breath, because there is so much history, not only in just the shock of losing my hearing, but all the changes of life,” he said. “But also there is immense love and gratitude because I would probably still be working alone today if I didn’t lose my hearing.”

Matt Mikkelsen carries his audio equipment while walking toward One Square Inch of Silence as the sun comes up on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park.
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Matt Mikkelsen carries his audio equipment while walking toward One Square Inch of Silence as the sun comes up on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Hempton has taken on a protégé: Matt Mikkelson, a tall, energetic man in his 20s who Hempton calls his hearing aid.

“You said that you’re hearing impaired and I am listening impaired and so together we make a really great team,” Mikkelson said.

“No, together we make a whole person, Matt,” Hempton said.

From left, Chris Morgan, Matt Mikkelsen, and Matt Martin, record an episode of The Wild while hiking to One Square Inch of Silence on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
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From left, Chris Morgan, Matt Mikkelsen, and Matt Martin, record an episode of The Wild while hiking to One Square Inch of Silence on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Mikkelson took The Wild host Chris Morgan and producer Matt Martin out into the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park to find an elusive spot Hempton has named the “One Square Inch of Silence.”

Hempton and Mikkelson have rules for what qualifies a quiet place: free of noise pollution for 15 minutes in the time period between an hour before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Hempton said only about a dozen places in the lower 48 meet that standard.

The sun begins to come up on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
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The sun begins to come up on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


“Silence definitely is the think tank of the soul,” he said. “It takes us to a very deep place in our lives. But we don’t need to answer silence. We can just be with silence. Spend some time with silence and you can carry on a conversation with it.”

Listen as The Wild goes deep into a magical spot in the forest. To find your own special quiet spot, you can start by checking out Hempton and Mikkelson’s organization Quiet Parks International.

Chris Morgan hugs Matt Mikkelsen after emerging from One Square Inch of Silence on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
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Chris Morgan hugs Matt Mikkelsen after emerging from One Square Inch of Silence on Friday, April 5, 2019, in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Past episodes of The Wild:

A harsh life among ‘super over-caffeinated' penguins

Bombs, guns and sea lions on the Columbia River

The 'ghost bears' of Washington state

Chris Morgan sees a forest therapist

These Italian bears survived gladiators and Mussolini

Let the bear make the first move, and other tips to stay safe in the wild

Living in a freezing hole, watching for tigers that may never come

Leave it to beavers, seriously

Return of ze big bad wolf

The first time I caught a grizzly bear

Neighbor calls a biologist: ‘There’s a cougar in my backyard.’ And he says...

The Wild is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan Wildlife. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker. Produced for the web by Kara McDermott.

Explore where we have gone to report on this season of The Wild. You can zoom, move around and click on the icons for more tidbits: