Searching for Silence in the Hoh Rainforest

By Priya Kavina

The earth sounds different in the rainforest. Footsteps echo through the depth of the ground. My every step resounds and I imagine the sound waves ricocheting down between intricate root systems and moisture. As I picture it, the layers of depth are as intricate and wise as they sound. It’s a beautiful sound—one I haven’t heard before. I love this sound, because it signals the health of the forest around me. 

As I hike through the Hoh Rainforest in Washington, I pay careful attention to the sounds I add to the dense landscape: footsteps quieting, breathing slowing. In the natural soundscape, the rubbing of my clothing becomes thunderous and distracting. 

Gordon Hempton, founder of the One Square Inch of Silence project—and the person who inspired me to visit the Hoh Rainforest says, “Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything.”

I could not agree more. 


hiker in the Hoh rainforest'


One Square Inch of Silence is an independent research project located in the Hoh Rainforest. It stresses that “silence is a part of our human nature, which can no longer be heard by most people.” The goal of the project is to enable more people to experience natural silence by preserving this “endangered” yet important resource.

The project asks people to protect just one square inch of the 1,400 square miles of Olympic National Park, employing a unique, but strong logic: If noise in one area, like the passing of an overhead plane, can impact a soundscape many square miles large, then intentional and protected silence in just one square inch should also influence a soundscape many square miles large. 



A small red stone installed by the project has marked this one square inch of silence since 2005. It’s an adventure to set out in search of this stone. Interestingly, not a single hiker I speak to on the trail has heard of this project. Even the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center does not mention the incredible feat this project takes on.

As the Hoh River Trail meanders towards and away from the Hoh River, the soundscape sings. The morning sun pours through the dense trees like shards of crystals, and I taste a freshness I’m struggling to describe. It’s hard to understand if I feel adrenaline from an intense sense of happiness and satisfaction, or peace from the absence of buildings, traffic, and pollution. 


There is a sureness out here. I am so sure this little red stone still exists in its true position, marking one of the 12 remaining quiet zones in the U.S. I am completely still yet completely in motion—and completely at peace.

Just about three miles into the hike, the trail curves, blocking the roaring echoes of the river, and I am left in a dense cavity of trees and sky. The silence presents itself like a child jumping out from behind a corner. It shocks me. But my ears quickly take a liking to the solid sounds sliding between the trees—echoes of a resoluteness I find only in nature. 

As excitement overtakes, I focus on finding the red stone marking the one square inch of silence. It must be close. I hike on, scanning the forest for the smallest glimpse of red.

A mile goes by and there’s still no sign of it. My hiking buddy tells me it’s unlikely the stone has remained in the same spot after 18 years. She’s right and I’m disappointed. In the end, I never found the one square inch of silence.


standing in the forest


My disappointment grows as I realize the importance and validation I placed in the stone instead of in the moment and the silence I experienced. Although I may not have found the stone, I did find the silence. 

I hike a mile back to the sounds of peace and meditate. The purpose of the project is not a scavenger hunt, but to educate people and inspire them to protect the great “silence” of the Olympic National Forest. 

I am more than inspired. And silence is more than silence. 



Priya Kavina is a writer with a degree in Cognitive Science who delves into the intricate connections between nature, art, and science to explore the depths of societal cognition. Through poetic narratives, Priya encourages a deeper appreciation for the outdoors while challenging norms and inviting readers to reflect on the connection between human perception and the world around us.