brings them here, their ears will silence themselves—and so
will my mind.
“Silence is like scouring sand,” he says. “When you are quiet,
the silence blows against your mind and etches away everything
that is soft and unimportant.” What is left is what is real—pure
awareness, and the very hardest questions.
Many years ago, Gordon was a botany student in Wisconsin. As
he was driving back to school from the West Coast, night came on,
and he stopped to sleep in an Iowa corn>eld. Lying on the ground,
he listened to crickets scratch their crisp >ddles and corn stalks
rasp against their leaves. He heard thunder rumble. The crickets
and the corn went silent, and the storm rolled over him. He heard
raindrops smack into soil, and hail rattle the stalks. Then the
thunder was growling far away and crickets were singing again.
How could it be that he had never before heard, really heard,
the sounds of the Earth? From that time forward, how could he
do anything but listen? How should he live his life? “Whatever
came next,” he told me, “had to measure up to the honesty of
Gordon dropped out of school and took a job as a bike messenger in Seattle. Everything he earned went into the microphones
and tape machines that would train his ear. Now he travels the
world, recording sounds with a microphone that has the shape
and acoustic characteristics of a human head. He produces CDs
from these recordings—the pure sounds of the natural world,
unadorned by human music, uninterrupted by the human voice.
He has become the Sound Tracker, whose recordings caught the
attention of composer John Cage, earned him an Emmy Award,
and landed him contracts to record the soundtracks for PBS
specials, movies, and even Microsoft computer games.
His most famous recording project is Dawn Chorus. As dawn
moves across the curve of the slowly turning planet and erases
the darkness with light, birds cry out, tentatively at >rst, insects
chime, melting snow strikes stone, a light wind rises, and the
whole Earth begins to sing. To his ears, it is a song of astonishment and gratitude.
Astonishment and gratitude are an important part of what
the future stands to lose under the shouting engines of human
ambition. When humans silence nature, drowning out the
small voices, we subordinate it to our own presumed power.
Anyone who has felt the oppression in a classroom or boardroom or marriage when only some are free to speak will understand what it means to be silenced—to have no voice, to be seen
and not heard, to be told to “pay attention,” which means do not
pay attention to any voice but one. Human noise is yet one more
oil->red expression of modernity’s claim of sovereignty and control over the natural world.
It speaks also of separation. The seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes drew a sharp distinction between humans
and the rest of creation. Humans, the thinking beings, have the