March 01, 2018

The Quest for Silence

Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything.” - Gordon Hempton
by Alyssa Mattei

A small red rock sits nestled in a dugout hole at the end of a indiscriminate mossy log, near an off-beaten elk path, accessed through a portal like tree off of a main trail in Olympic National Park. Unmarked by any signage, and not directly off any main way, this spot is unknown to many passers by and hikers alike. Not many know where it is or that it even exists but to some it becomes, in a way, like a Mecca. Shrouded by such mystery in fact I’m not quite sure how I myself came across the information that caused my family and I to hike out over 3 miles with an unvetted internet map to locate that one single rock in a 922,651 acre rainforest.

Those who know it come to what’s been dubbed ‘one square inch of silence’. That’s right, we hiked out 3.2 miles, walked through a tree, crossed a boggy puddle of wetlands, and distinguished a generic downed tree to find one square inch―one particularly special square inch. In 2005,, Gordon Hempton conducted an experiment in which he determined this single spot was the quietest place in the contiguous 48 states. (For more information on this experiment see

Now you may be asking the same question as I was asking myself when I found said not-brightly-painted-fire-engine-red-as-I-had-expected rock at the end of a looks-the-same-as-the-hundreds-of-other-logs-out-here log: how do you know this is the right rock in the right tree? Well this spot has one other indicator, what is known as the “jar of quiet thoughts.” And this is what announced to me the correct location more than the rock itself. I won’t lie I expected a more old, weathered, highly romanticised yet generic movie prop feel of a jar and not an old plastic juice container. But the scratched handwritten “the lost jar of quiet thoughts” did enough to keep the treasure adventure mood.

The park trails wind through the emerald greens of moss
covered trees and ferns of the rainforest in Western Washington.

Although you are encouraged to read others’ writings (but are asked not to publish them) this bottle necked jar doesn’t make it easy. Thus I spent several minutes fishing my fingers around with a dogged determination to read the message written on a gum wrapper, the most innovative improvisation. This, as it turned out, was probably how I ended up spending a majority of my time at this place.

I wish I had had more time there. We were so busy taking selfies, contributing our own thoughts and preparing ourselves for the hike back, that I felt I didn’t have the time to truly be absorbed into the space. (Although even in the short time the mossy surface I sat on certainly had time to get absorbed into my pants... so perhaps it wasn’t all bad I didn’t hang around for too long.) The whole experience just seemed to be over too quickly. But the truth is, there is so much to see that sometimes we need to learn to enjoy and experience a place just within a small space; There is so much to do in the world that taking just a moment of silence will have to do.

And I am happy to have spent my moment of silence reading the quiet thoughts of others. Thinking about how every person can experience just a single inch in a slightly different ways provides a macrocosm of perspective. Several experiences of one space multiplied by an entire world full of noise. Think of how so many people can live in so many different ways. It reminds us to never forget to put some time aside to just listen to the lost thoughts of others. If you listen hard enough to you might just find some parts of yourself there, too.