At first, we only visited the New York Times “Lessons in Stillness from One of the Quiestest Places on Earth” because we wanted to see Mitch Epstein‘s photographs of trees in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. We’ve been fans of his work since we saw his stunning photographs of trees around New York City in his book, New York Arbor.

But then the story called us, of the author, whose life the past year had been full of grueling personal difficulty, retreating to the quiet rain forest in the Pacific Northwest.

WHY DO WE MISTAKE silence for peace? Silence is peaceful because it reduces stimulation. And silent places tend to be slower places. As I sat by the river in the rain forest, in rushed all the thoughts that noise had blotted out, and held at bay. I felt like an iPhone trying to download a huge cache of emails and texts after a long airplane flight: Here, announcing themselves, were my father’s illness, the insistent reality of my new son, my ambitions for my book.

But if silence is so peaceful, I wondered, why do many of us choose to live in busy, noisy cities? Ours is a poetic dilemma: We want silence, but we also want to blot it out. We confuse silence for peace — then go a little crazy when we have it.

 

© Mitch Epstein / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

To hear ourselves, we sometimes have to flee ourselves, diving into silence until we’re uncomfortably alone with the noise within.

© Mitch Epstein / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Epstein’s work gives a sense of that impossible quiet. See more of his photographs of the Hoh Rainforst at MitchEpstein.net.

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