Central City, Neb.
I do crossword puzzles, and one of the frequent clues is “night sounds.” I learned early on that the word to write in is “snores.”
I’m sorry for anyone who hears only snores as night sounds. There are so many more that you can hear through an open window or, preferably, by walking outside. We live in a neighborhood where there is frequent dog barking and occasionally audible cat fights. Those are not so pleasant, but I love the sounds of insects and wildlife.
In the early spring, especially after a rain, we can hear the croaking of frogs. I’m not sure whether those are mating calls or just to celebrate the joy of life lived in a pond. By midsummer the loud buzz of cicadas in the trees is the prominent sound. By late August that has tapered off, but then we have the cheerful chirping of crickets (some of them emanating from somewhere inside the house.) I’ve always thought crickets were cute, and if I can catch one I toss it outside rather than killing it. There is a country somewhere in the world that regards a cricket in the house as good fortune. It may be China, but I don’t remember for sure. And there is a book named A Cricket on the Hearth.
Nocturnal birds include the nighthawk that’s here in the summertime, and owls that live here the year around. Various kinds of owls inhabit our area, but I believe the one we hear the most is the great horned owl, on the hunt for prey. I’m not as good at identifying wildlife calls as my husband Duane. He recognizes the bark of a fox, for example, and the other day he reported hearing the gobble of a turkey at night.
I have always readily identified the howl of a coyote when I hear one. It’s different from a dog’s howl. We had plenty of coyotes in the area when I was a kid. We heard them about every night, especially in the winter. My dad liked to sing “Oh bury me, on the lone prairie, where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free,” so that’s the way we all sang it. I privately wondered why anyone would request to be buried in such a place, but later learned that the correct wording is “bury me not on the lone prairie.” I think Daddy expected lines in a song to rhyme. He also sang “Swing low, sweet chari-oh” with a long “o” and no “t.” I had that one sung at his funeral (but not his version) along with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which he often belted out while doing chores. I skipped the “Oh Bury Me Not.” That one was a bit too much for a funeral service.
Much as I truly love the night sounds, I also love the silence of the early morning when those sounds have ceased. It’s my habit to rise early in the morning while it’s still dark, and sometimes when I step outdoors the whole sky is filled with stars. What a feeling of awe, to gaze at the sky and hear the sound of silence. And I think to myself, “Starry Night,” the title of my favorite Van Gogh painting.
There is virtue in both sound and silence. Happily, we can enjoy both in the night.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.