Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just Gimme an Inch

Coming up is a bunch of sentences regarding a new book, One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton. I should explain my approach to writing reviews at Amazon: because their description and many of the reviews cover all the ABCs of plot or subject matter, I tend to skip all that and just write about my own reaction. Because really Amazon only exists so that I have another place to write about myself and my opinions. Which is fine in context, but here would leave you wondering what the hell this book is about.

So . . . this book is written by a man who has made his living recording and selling the sounds of nature. He lives near Olympic National Park in Washington, where he's placed a small stone and started a campaign to have it be a place of silence, especially concerned about airplanes flying overhead. His theory is that in order to keep that one square inch silent, you would actually be keeping a much larger area silent. He decides to drive
his VW bus across the country to Washington DC to pitch his idea.

But before we get to the review, here's what has been driving me crazy for the past couple days. There was a song, perhaps by some group like Supertramp or Led Zeppelin, maybe by some hairy folksinger or British blues rocker, which at some point led to the plaintively spoken/sung/yelled lines "Just give me an inch, all I need is an inch, all I want is an inch" etc. Or some such version in a different order. I think this was not so much part of the actual lyrics as a fadeout or aside during the song. Please please please help me and tell me what this damned song was and who sang it!

Back to the regular program.

I wish I liked this book more. I'm a hiker and love natural silence and natural sounds, and have cursed at many an airplane destroying the quiet. There are some lovely bits of nature writing scattered through the book. Being a fan of Doug Peacock's books, I was happy to see him appear. I enjoyed the pages on tinnitus and hearing tests, having experienced that some years ago.

But despite my love of quiet, I think it's silly and wrong to claim that preserving natural silence is as essential as species preservation, habitat restoration, toxic waste cleanup, and carbon dioxide reduction. If humans disappear most of our noise stops immediately, but extinction is forever and so might be some of our toxic waste.

I suspected trouble early when the author reports a conversation with a ranger giving no clues as to facial expressions or tone of voice. When the ranger acknowledges remembering the author, I already wondered if he meant How ya doing? or What do you want now, you pain in the butt? I found most of the cross-country travels and conversations which make up the book much less interesting.

I'm more a fan of trying to do as little harm as possible than I am of eccentric doing good schemes, and I think the author's world travels have done more environmental harm than his unlikely square inch of silence would do good. I'd be tempted to call his crusade tilting at windmills, but he informs us that they, along with almost everything else, are too noisy.

The book Viners got didn't include the CD, so we couldn't comment on that. Throughout the book, there is mention of the taking of many photos of the One Square Inch stone as it poses before landmarks or is held by various people. I can easily imagine the official final product having page after page of these photos of the stone--it would somehow be perfectly appropriate for this rather unusual book.


greentangle said...

Eureka, the answer to my question has finally arrived in my brain. It wasn't an inch, but the truth, and the singer of course was John Lennon.

MojoMan said...

OK, I haven't read the book, but I'm with you. Any self-proclaimed environmental prophet that drives/flies around the world consuming fossil fuel and spewing carbon is a false prophet in my book.

I'm beginning to think airplane noise is a problem that will solve itself as the economy and peak oil does in the airline industry.