Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US

“One Square Inch of Silence is very possibly the quietest place in the United States.” – Gordon Hempton, onesquareinch.org

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Visiting One Square Inch

I’m an avid supporter of Gordon Hempton’s conservation work, so I was thrilled to make a field recording pilgrimage to One Square Inch in Olympic National Park in October 2017. Fortunately, you can still find long stretches of natural silence in this magical place. Hear a 35-minute soundscape from the One Square Inch here:

A percentage of all the Pacific Northwest libraries I sell will be donated to One Square Inch to help support soundscape preservation in Olympic National Park.

Wildlife

One of the most magical sounds I’ve ever experienced is Roosevelt Elk bugling in an old growth forest. Imagine walking down a trail, surrounded by 1000-year-old trees, and suddenly hearing a haunting trumpeting off in the distance. This sound stopped me dead in my tracks, and I was in complete awe. Hear elk bugling and trumpeting here:

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Magical Dripping Tree

My favorite sound in the Hoh Rainforest was what I deemed “The Magical Dripping Tree.” Picture a rich tree canopy with coniferous trees towering over big leaf maple trees. During my visit, the maple leaves were stunning hues of gold and ranged from 8 to 12 inches wide. Moss covered these deciduous trees, and after a rainstorm or foggy night, I discovered the moss released the most beautiful plopping drips, rain-like, but less dense and with giant splats. The forest was so quiet that these drops made rich plopping transients, enlivening the space of the old-growth forest. Hear some of these magical drips starting at 1:30.

Storm Waves

A massive rain system swept through the area for about four days during my visit. This wind made for extreme storm waves that I recorded at Rialto Beach in between storm cells. The twenty-foot waves and frothing seafoam made for rich and powerful recordings. I love the violent slurping sound as water is sucked back after each massive wave.

Rialto Beach is a place where massive spruce stumps are still rooted in the beach, desperately holding to the earth as the soil is stripped from their roots. I pressed a contact mic to one of these stumps and could hear what Gordon Hempton calls the “heartbeat of the ocean”. The vibrations from crashing waves moving through the tree roots create stunning resonances in the wood!

Keeping Gear Dry

  • Tent Rain Cover: I made a useful rain cover by folding the body of my tent flat on the ground while leaving the rain cover up supported by tent poles. If the rain drops are plentiful, plopping on the plastic can be an issue, but when it is lightly misting all night, this type of cover works beautifully.

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  • Dew: I constantly checked the dew point to know whether or not dew would form on my microphone blimp overnight. Some nights I was only able to record for 3-4 hours before the moisture was so thick on the microphone blimp that I had to call it quits. While my tent rain cover helped minimize dew, I knew it wouldn’t stop it altogether. I am looking into a better waterproofing option with a Cinella blimp for my next trip. I’ll write a post to let you know how it goes!
  • Hiking in the rain:  When recording in wet conditions, I like to have all my gear wired before I leave my dry prepping area (usually my car). I start by wrapping all microphone cable connection points with electrical tape. (Thanks Andy Martin for this tip!) Then, I mount the Rycote blimp on my Manfrotto stand and drape a dry bag over the top. I keep my recorder in a bag strapped to my chest with a rain cover hung on top. If there is very heavy rain, I put a cheap plastic poncho over my entire body. If I am backcountry camping, I carry blocks of desiccants that I periodically place inside a large dry bag with all my recording gear to dry everything out.

Help from a Friend

I love the field recording community. It’s a small group, but I love how people help each other out. When I fried my main battery charger during some fun in a Pacific Northwest rainstorm, Andy Martin (a Seattle-based field recordist) let me borrow some extra batteries and charger during my trip! His generosity saved me from wasting several days trying to find a replacement in Seattle or having to overnight ship a replacement. I hope to be able to pay it forward in the future.

Military Flights

Navy Growlers were a constant problem over the Olympic Peninsula because the US Navy had been granted a permit to do training flights during my visit. For several hours each day, the Growlers, insanely loud, supersonic capable military jets, buzzed around the Hoh River Valley at low altitudes. 

Read more about this issue: 

Listen to the recording below and decide for yourself whether these jets are causing “no significant impact” to the acoustic ecology of Olympic National Park as the Navy claims.

I could have avoided this noise pollution by checking online or calling a park ranger in advance to ask if there was any new noise pollution in the area. I’ll definitely check for new noise pollution when planning for my next trip!

Despite the jets, I was fortunate to still capture a substantial amount of pristine nature recordings.

Lessons Learned

  1. Satellite Communicators: These are devices that use a satellite connection so that you can text anyone without cellular service or make a call for emergency services. I didn’t have one of these on this trip, but I wish I had.  I could have texted my family with safety check-ins, called for help if needed, and even had weather forecasts for my GPS location texted to me each day. The ability to communicate without mobile service is hugely beneficial to a solo field recordist because a satellite connection would have enabled me to travel to more exposed areas and given me access to beautiful places I wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable in as a solo backpacker. I plan to get one for my next trip. They average between $250 and $400 and need a monthly data plan. I’m considering the Garmin inReach Explorer+ or the SPOT X. I’ll let you know how it works out!
  2. Weather Research: When recording nature sounds, there is always a tough balance between lousy weather or too many people. For example, in Olympic National Park, there are far fewer visitors in October, but the chances of rain and storms are much higher. I knew the average rainfall during October, but I didn’t know that a significant portion of the precipitation comes from light rain and mist. For instance, Seattle and San Antonio (where I’m from) have similar average rainfall amounts (37 inches vs. 31 inches). The main difference is that San Antonio gets its rainfall from sudden massive downpours, whereas Seattle is like living in a cloud. I now know to check the average rainfall, the rate of rain, and the typical types of storms before planning a trip. I also realize that recording during a rainy season could easily require me to wait out a storm.
  3. Signal Chain Accessories: In previous blog posts, I have championed field recording minimalism. I have since changed my tune a little bit in regards to cables, chargers, and other accessories in my recording signal chain. I still like having the least amount of microphones and recorders possible, but having more redundancy with accessories would have been incredibly helpful on this trip. I’ve learned that extremely wet environments tend to cause accidents and I ruined several pieces of my kit during this trip.

Upcoming projects:

I’m focusing on some sound design libraries for the next few releases. Watch for them soon! I’m also busy planning my field recording trips later this summer and fall. If you need any specific sounds, please let me know and I’ll try to capture them!

Thanks for listening,

Tom

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