Silence: Near Extinction?

Gordon Hempton tracks silence. Far from a vacuum of sound, Gordon explains that silence is the “absence of noise.”

Last Day in the Woods 049Gordon Hempton tracks silence. Far from a vacuum of sound, Gordon explains that silence is the “absence of noise.” During a 2012 recorded interview by Krista Tibbett, Hempton said that silence is on the verge of extinction, and that silence is now measured by intervals where there is no noise. There are only 12 places in the U.S. where there is silence for 15 minute intervals (without the interruption of noise). None of them are protected according to Hempton.

Click here for the 2012 interview with Tibbett on Very thoughtful exploration of the role of natural sound in our quality of life, ability to be present, and about human impact on the earth.

Click here for Gordon Hempton’s Website with a video of his 30-year tracking of silence around the world, and tracks of the sounds of silence.

The First American Democracy

“The future is a construct that is shaped in the present, and that is why to be responsible in the present is the only way of taking serious responsibility for the future. What is important is not the fulfillment of all one’s dreams, but the stubborn determination to continue dreaming.”

~ Gioconda Belli, The Country Under My Skin

Nothing can replace the act of seeking knowledge for oneself. I can read about it, have it explained, or live it through another person’s experience, but in each case I see it incompletely, like the blind man holding the elephant’s tail.

For Americans eighteen and older this has never been more relevant.

In1990 I sought to learn about our nation’s first people by going to them. I left a high profile position at a well known institution, sold or gave away most of my possessions, packed up my pick up, and traveled to a dusty border town trusting my inner compass. There was a man and woman who agreed to take me on as an apprentice and student to help me understand American culture and my own life’s course through an examination of my country’s historical relationship with the First Americans and with the land, water, air, and wildlife of the North American continent.

Why did I do that, you may wonder. I had come to the realization that instead of my nation being a beacon of light in the world, it was in fact an empire to many other nations and peoples whose cultural beliefs and lands were at odds with ours.  How could there be hunger in a land of plenty? Why were democratic rights applied conditionally to members of our own society and in the world – and my culture accept that? How could we destroy the great natural beauty and abundance of our lands even while extolling how much we love it?

It made no sense to me and created a pervading sense of living a lie. I remember the unreality of my life then as I drove to work where architecturally beautiful buildings and the expansive green of a golf course tumbled down to the deep blue of the Pacific ocean. My day was stressful administering programs at a world renown health care facility where patients—banged up in the American market wars and social striving—suffered from heart problems, addiction, or complications from obesity.

One day I sat looking out the picture windows of my corporate office on a singing blue-sky day in southern California. Internally I felt lost and weak.  My eyes settled on a book that had lain unread on my shelves for many years:  Touch the Earth (T.C. McLuhan.) It is a book of Indian values from Indian voices.

At the first reading I experienced a profound sense of sanity return to me. In them I found a direction to pursue the answers to my deepest questions. I became aware of a pulsing hunger at my core for this knowledge, like something precious lost and then vaguely rememberd. Could it be that we have within us the knowledge of past human wisdom buried in our brains at birth? Looking back now, I realize that I had no choice but to make the decisions that led me to seek guidance and leave all I had known before – to clear the decks and make way for something new.

The next three years of living in the daily presence of two American Indian educators (one a Mojave elder, college professor, Korean veteran and social worker; the other an Iroquois artist and musician) changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I still believe the experience made me a better person. But the story of how that evolved is a hard one and definitely not what I had expected. The path to self-understanding is a crucible where falseness is burned away and a tender new skin grown. It requires humility, determination, and humor. It is anything but glamorous.

I hope you will return to my blog for journal entries about my experiences. Until then, here are some links to explore:

The First Democracy: the Haudenosaunee

Basic Call to Consciousness

Talking Bear and Sweet Leilani

Ed and Milly at the BeginningMy parents are remembered by my sisters and family during the season of Advent and the national commemoration of December 7–Pearl Harbor Day. Advent anticipates the coming of Light into the world while Pearl Harbor remembers the dark side of human behavior. These are bookends of the amazing lives of my parents, Edward Buell Feathers and Millicent Adelaide Jones Feathers.

My parents were raised in traditional Southern families, Mom as a Baptist and Dad as a Methodist. They were both rather unsophisticated in their exposure to the world, but Pearl Harbor changed their lives forever. Dad joined the Army Air Corps and proposed to his sweetheart on the same day. Swept from their quiet towns into the cauldron of war, the trajectory of their lives changed dramatically.

Together they brought my sisters, Beverly, Barbie, Kathy and me into this world and tossed us in the backseat of a station wagon. We crisscrossed the U.S. dozens of times over my father’s 22 year career in the Air Force.

But one very special assignment took us to Honolulu, to Hickam Air Force Base. It was 1948 when our family was assigned to Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. The remnants of war still scarred Wai Nomi Bay. Vivid childhood memories of a long stretch of beach with a lone pink hotel and green palms remains with me. Waikiki Beach held only one hotel, the Royal Hawaiian.

The islands were a wonder to my parents, especially my mother. She learned hula from a Hawaiian teacher, we know only as Mama Bishop. In 1949 Mom graduated from The Bishop School of Traditional Hula and would perform for years afterward. Below she is performing a traditional dance at Selfridge AFB in Detroit, a cold reality after the sunny, gentle island life she loved and yearned for ever after.

Mom Performing Hula in Michigan

Photos of Mom and Dad going out on the town in their silk shirts and dresses–splashed with native flowers in lavender, white, or ruby red–and always the blossom in Mom’s hair, show their happy young faces.  They were very much in love. I was in awe of them at age 4. Yet this is just a slice of their lives. I prefer to remember when they were happy, young, in love with life, and dreaming of the future.

In 2012 on Pearl Harbor Day Dad joined his Sweet Leilani on some distant shore transforming darkness into light. He was 95, still tripping the light fantastic.

So today we symbolically throw an aromatic lei onto the green Gulf waters and hope it might return to those lovely beaches on a deep blue sea. How we miss our parents, Talking Bear and Sweet Leilani.