The soundscape of silent trail “When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of a life. How silent and unambitious it is! The beauty there is in mosses must be considered from the holiest, quietest nook." – Henry David Thoreau, 1842 In 2018, the world’s first Silent Trail was launched at 1800 meters above sea level, along the shore of Cueifong Lake in the Taipingshan Forest Recreation Area, Taiwan. The tourists who set foot on this trail will know that remaining quiet is essential to forest conservation, and will gladly respect the silence there. They will be able to reap a different harvest once they experience the soundscape through listening. Every stone, every creek, every tree, and even every mountain in nature has a melody of its own. Listening to the soundscape of a place is an important source of power that integrates an individual into nature. Taipingshan used to be one of the three largest forestry centers in Taiwan. After its transformation into a forest recreation area in 1989, nature began to recuperate, and life began to emerge. Now, due to its geographical distance away from air pollution, and owing to the abundant rainfall brought by northeast monsoons, the forest floor was carpeted with a thick layer of mosses. The mosses absorb water, as well as noise, making this forest a natural acoustic chamber and the quietest place in Taiwan. However, the nuances of a beautiful melody can only be discerned by a quiet heart. Many tourists, accustomed to the hustle and bustle of city life, failed to appreciate this silence; they played radios during hikes. Some tourist groups even guided their tours with loudspeakers. Therefore, Luodong Forest District Office established the world's first Silent Trail, which officially ushered Taiwan’s conservation thinking from landscape conservation into the era of soundscape conservation. In response to the psychological need of the busy and stressed modern people, a Silent Trail offers a sensory experience of slowing down and calming down, along with an environment to learn in. The trail is a way to protect the land and heal humanity. Only when we change our mentality will the ecology change with us. Hopefully, the silence in Taipingshan will exert a positive effect on our mentality, and there will be more Silent Trails both within and without Taiwan, so that we can all learn to be quiet and connect with the earth, with ourselves. Why is “listening to silence” so important? Does silence have a voice, or not? Does the moment when only silence resounds in the air represent an end, or a beginning? As Laozi put it in Tao Te Ching, “Something chaotic and complex came into being earlier than heaven and earth. Silent and indefinite, it stood alone and has never changed. Its continual operation can be considered the origin of the world.” Chinese philosophy holds, in the universe, the tangible and intangible coexist, and that from nothingness comes being. What may seem like illusion and void turns out to be the richest, most meaningful realm of spirit. Silence is in fact an awakening. In a generation when listening isn’t encouraged, silence has become an interesting invitation to you, allowing you to slow down, heightening your senses, reviving your exploration instinct, so that you—long accustomed to a life of visual dependence—can try to create a genuine interaction between the body and the environment, and in the meantime recover your initial balance, by following the clues of sounds. In view of the environment we live in, we humans basically no longer need to listen to the world. We no longer rely on auditory and physical immersion experience to construct authentic memories and experiences. Therefore, we are confined to concrete buildings, engaging with the world through computer screens and windows. Nowadays, no matter what soundscape we are exposed to, the lifestyles we choose seem to be getting identical—being present more in virtual reality than in the real world. Worst of all, we humans have lost track of ourselves, unwilling and unable to face who we really are. Silence has become a luxury, both to humans and to the other creatures. Walking on the Silent Trail, as you listen from within to without yourself, you can clearly distinguish one sound from another, with any sound traveling far into the distance, and feel the power of an all-encompassing state. Thus, to feel and to listen to the silence, is to learn to be at peace with your inner self. Where is the Silent Trail? The Silent Trail is part of the Cueifong Circular Trail. Entering from the East Entrance, 300 meters into the plank path, you will come across the first Lake Scenery Platform, and that is the East End of the Silent Trail. Walking 1.5 kilometers, past the Tundra Area toward the White Wood Forests, you will come across the second Lake Scenery Platform, and that is the West End of the Silent Trail. Another option is entering from the West Entrance of the Cueifong Circular Trail, walking 2.2 kilometers, and you will arrive at the West End of the Silent Trail. Then you can cover the entire 1.5 kilometers of the Silent Trail and exit from the East Entrance. This way you will circle the lake. How to appreciate the Silent Trail? The Silent Trail can be best appreciated when visitors, at a slow and leisurely pace, closely observe the flora around. Different wildflowers are showcased as seasons change, practically a natural floral exposition all year round. The blossoms you are likely to spot include those of Nepal Fleshspike, Formosan Gentian, Coptis Morii, Taiwan Heloniopsis, Rolfe's Raspberry, etc. Along the Trail, you can also perceive the diverse manifestation of the mosses, or the dripping sound of raindrops falling along the mountain wall into the puddles. Here the constant and abundant rainfall has given birth to a thick, green carpet of mosses, which serves as the best sound-absorbing foam, hence leading to the absence of noise. Still, you have the opportunities to hear the lovely songs of various birds inhabiting these forests at intermediate altitudes, birds like Blue Shortwing, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Taiwan Yuhina, Green-backed Tit, Taiwan Sibia, Steere’s Liocichla, Formosan Laughingthrush, Taiwan Vivid Niltava, White-throated Flycatcher, etc. Arriving at the Ordovician Tundra Area, you will find mosses covering all over the ground and cypress trees in the dense, primeval forest here. Since most birds stay away from the bottom of these woods, the atmosphere is ancient, wild, and mysterious. It’d feel as if you’ve entered a Temple of Silence, serene yet magical, filling you with humility and awe. You can find a place to rest for a while (be careful not to step on those mosses, though), close your eyes, and listen to the surroundings with sound barely reaching 26 decibels. The more perceptive you are, the better you will be able to appreciate every inch of the journey. Accordingly, you must try to be as quiet as you can, proceeding relaxedly, opening your ears to everything around you. Then this journey over the Silent Trail will send you home refreshed, invigorated, and radiant with positive energy.
The world's first Quiet Trail – the Taipingshan Cueifong Circular Trail – circles Cueifong Lake, the largest mountain lake in Taiwan, sitting between Taipingshan and Dayuanshan, I-lan County. The lush, damp cypress forests around the lake are covered in mosses, which function as a natural layer of sound-absorbing foam, making this area a wonderful acoustic anechoic chamber. Also, being far away in the mountains and thus free of human interference, the area is extremely quiet, the sound measured there barely reaching 25 decibels. In 2018, part of the Cueifong Circular Trail was designated as the first national Silent Trail, so that every visitor walking on the trail can feel the soundscape by listening to the unique melody of each stone, each creek, each tree, or even each mountain, thus in the meanwhile accomplishing forest conservation through listening. On account of the effort mentioned above, on July 18th, World Listening Day, Quiet Parks International (QPI) – a worldwide non-profit organization – awards the world’s first Quiet Trail status to the Taipingshan Cueifong Circular Trail. The certification ceremony begins with the prayer and performance by the Atayal indigenous people from Nan’ao Township – who used to live in Haga Paris, hence inheriting the Atayal tribal memory of thriving with Nature by listening to and feeling Nature. Subsequently, the certification ceremony is completed with the witness and best wishes of QPI representatives from all over the world. According to Forestry Bureau, the Cueifong Circular Trail was constructed along the Cueifong Lake following the previous logging railway, in order that visitors can enjoy the scenic lake view at close range. The Cueifong Circular Trail is 3.95 kilometers in length, making it the longest of all trails in the Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area. Due to the remote location, most of the numerous visitors only walk the first 300 meters of the wooden walkway, take a look at the lake, and then leave in a hurry, inadvertently preserving the quietness of the Silent Trail, which sits from 2.2K to 3.6K in the middle of the Circular Trail.From June 2014, in cooperation with the Luodong Forest District Office, Laila Fan — a renowned Taiwanese field recordist — began examining and recording the natural soundscape of Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area. For over a year, after traveling all the trails there repeatedly, she finally found, in the cypress forests along the Cueifong Circular Trail, the silence representative enough of Taiwan’s forests. The sounds measured with precision instruments in the Ordovician Tundra Area barely reached 25 decibels, almost the state of an acoustic anechoic chamber. Then from 2015 to 2017, in the above-mentioned Ordovician Tundra Area, Laila Fan collected soundscape data by recording five minutes every hour for three years. The subsequent soundscape files are made accessible on Asian Soundscape. Since 2016, an activity entitled “Play with Sound and Listen to the World” – with the theme of environmental education – held by the Luodong Natural Education Center in collaboration with the Luodong Forest District Office, has been available to the general public, so that people can learn to understand the influence and magic of sound, and to open up senses other than sight. In 2018, Laila Fan published a picture book The Call of the Silent Trail, telling the story of Taiwan’s first national Silent Trail – established within the Cueifong Circular Trail in the same year, witnessed by an American soundscape ecologist Gordon Hempton – in order to continually promote Silent Trails and soundscape conservation, as well as teaching people to keep quiet, avoid using megaphones, refrain from playing music through loudspeakers, and avoid stepping on moss. Quiet Parks International (QPI) is an important organization founded by world-famous field recordist and soundscape ecologist Gordon Hempton – whose goal is to save quiet for the benefit of all life, and by saving quiet simultaneously preserve the soundscape original to the land, thus leading to the preservation of all life. QPI awards certifications to the five categories: Urban Quiet Parks, Wilderness Quiet Parks, Quiet Trails, Quiet Stays, Quiet Residences and Communities; they hope people protect the land by listening, learning, and loving. As Nick McMahan – Director of Quiet Trails – put it, “The establishment of the Taipingshan Quiet Trail is a monument to the awakening of human ecological awareness.” Only when our mentality changes will ecology change with it. On World Listening Day 2022, Quiet Parks International launches a series of sound conservation activities with the theme of Listening Across Boundaries. QPI also points out that, as the world’s first Quiet Trail status is awarded to the Taipingshan Circular Trail, two other places in the world – Niobrara Wild & Scenic River, Nebraska, USA, and Finnhamnen, Kvarken Archipelago, Finland – will follow in Taiwan’s footsteps and establish their first Quiet Trails. Hopefully, the silence in Taipingshan will exert a positive effect on our mentality, and there will be more Silent Trails both within and without Taiwan, so that we can all learn to listen through quietness, to restore Nature, and to reconnect with the earth, and with ourselves as well.
- Fans Group for Taipingshan