The Sound of Silence

Local spots to have a moment of quiet for yourself

Candice René
Candice René at the top of Mt. BaldyPhoto by Todd Cooper

Water, timber and minerals are natural resources with which we, as Oregonians, are familiar. Often, communities come into conflict when deciding whether to use or preserve these natural resources. But there is one natural resource that is frequently overlooked yet always available: the sound of quiet.

Gordon Hempton, founder of the One Square Inch of Silence — a spot in Olympia National Park deemed the “quietest place in the United States” — understands the power of quiet and is trying to draw attention to the issue of noise pollution. He says that until he had an epiphany when awakened during a thunderstorm at 27, he’d never really listened.

Hempton is now looking to preserve the quietness of places. He has a running list of the 12 great quiet places left in the U.S., areas devoid of all man-made or related sounds such as cars, dogs, construction, etc. Aside from the detrimental impacts to human health, noise pollution has a major effect on wildlife. The main question, Hempton says, is how much effect.

“In the modern world, it’s generally what shouts at us for attention that gets it,” Hempton says. “Whether it’s music, television or even a busy restaurant, the modern world is just loud. And we learn to notice the shouting. We’ve become a nation of shouters.”

Hempton encourages those interested in quiet to re-learn how to listen to a place, and to realize when they need the quiet.

“When you listen, as in a quiet place, don’t listen for a sound. Don’t listen for the sound of quiet, or the sound of silence,” Hempton says. “Just listen to the place. That’s how you can take it all in, and notice things that you would not notice before.”

Whitey Lueck, a UO landscape architecture professor, appears to strongly agree with Hempton’s commitment to quiet; Lueck says he believes that with the buildup of each generation, less and less people are realizing the effects of ambient, man-made noises all around them.

Lueck’s local effort to reduce the amount of train-horn blasts in Eugene reflects his desire for more quiet places, both for people and for wildlife. “We all deserve a quiet place, just as we deserve clean water and air,” he says.

Here are some nearby places to enjoy a moment or two. Although they aren’t nearly as quiet as Hempton’s list of the 12 quietest places, they’re good locations to start listening. As Hempton says, “When you think you’re much too busy to go to a quiet place is exactly when you need to go. Trust me on that.”

Here’s a selection of quiet hikes in the Eugene area we found by asking local hikers and experiencing it for ourselves. Got a quiet spot you’re willing to share? Email, and tell us about it.

Eugene Masonic Cemetery

A wooded respite from the city in southeast Eugene, the Masonic Cemetery is by no means the quietest place in town. But, given its accessibility and natural beauty, the cemetery is the perfect place for a quieter moment. The entrance and educational signs are located on University Street and 25th Avenue, but it is accessible from virtually all angles. The tall stand of Douglas firs keeps the hum of cars in the back of the mind, and the birdsong comes to the fore. Creeping myrtle and bluebells decorate the headstones, and the uneven hillside provides lots of somewhat-private retreat. With benches and grassy space to wander, the Masonic Cemetery is a good pick for a short, quiet thought during the day.

Sounds heard: people, highway, cars, dogs, birds, planes.

Mount Baldy/Amazon Headwaters

The Ridgeline Trail varies in quietness depending on where you go. The whole area is threaded with trails, some on the edges of hills that block the sound of cars from the highway and others on ridges invariably buffeted with some noise pollution. These hikes offer views of the valley, and are used by mountain bikers as well. The nice thing about these trails is their ease and proximity to the city. They make a simple DIY trail route, with so many different loops to take, and can easily be done with just an hour or two taken out of the day to devote to quietness.

Sounds heard: highway, cars, birds, planes.

Sweet Creek Falls

This lovely hike is about 44 miles west of Eugene, near Mapleton and on the way to Florence. After taking a left turn onto Sweet Creek Road, drive about 25 minutes and you’ll find a subtle trail marker. The sound of flowing water can be heard immediately from the small parking lot, and the entire hike is situated next to the river. Sweet Creek is overflowing with foliage; giant boulders bearded with heavy moss and columbines, trilliums and bleeding heart decorate the path. Western hemlock, alders and cedars retain much of the moisture, giving the hike a calming sense of cool.

Instead of one grandiose set of falls at the end of the hike, Sweet Creek is a lot of beautiful, unique small falls, but still with a bigger set of falls at the end that you can climb close to. The result is a wide range of water sounds, from a slight trickling down the rock face to a thunderous roar. The hike is an out-and-back, and takes about half a day with time given to meandering and resting.

Sounds heard: birds, water (this hike is far away from railroads, airports or busy roads).