I’ve spent most of my life living in small to medium size towns, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of city life. I’ve lived in New England, the mid-west and Southern California for extended periods of time, each a wonderful area to live. Within a town’s setting the nights are vastly different than the nights in a city…..those few nights in a city I recall. In a town eventually the “sidewalks roll up”, the business establishments, restaurants and taverns close and slumber blankets the neighborhoods. As the moon climbs high the stars sparkle bright and the quiet night settles in. “Quiet night” is a loose term though, even in a town’s fabric.
It amazes me the amount of noise and sounds that emanate from a quiet night. It is so quiet it’s…. noisy. There are the usual sounds of “cars, trains and airplanes” so-to-speak, and the occasional rumble of the all too loud low-riding motorcycle or “hog” arriving home in the late night hours from who knows where. But in addition to these expected sounds there is a medley of other noise that comes to my ears, some singularly and solo, others in chorus, many in competition with one another….most disturbing my otherwise peaceful sleep. I must admit that some of the sounds are pleasant to wake to…the sound of the surf drifting along with the night’s air currents from the beach a few miles away, the distant rumble and whistle of a lone train passing through town in the middle of the night, the soft occasional hoot of the howl perched in the distant tree looking for prey (hopefully the damn rabbits that populate our neighborhood and front lawn). In the cool night air sounds travel far. But for the most part I’d rather stay asleep.
For a good portion of my adult life I lived alone, often in very old homes. In the winters, at night with the covers pulled up to my chin against the cold night air, the house would shut down…lights turned off, fireplace put out, heat turned down. I’ve looked under the bed and in the closet and no boogie men are around. Yet a few hours into my much wanted sleep groans and creaks, snaps and cracks startle me awake. They say it’s the house “settling” as it cools down for the evening, materials contracting. I settle down for the evening, every evening, and my body cools down as I reach slumber. And I am older than some of the homes I’ve lived in. Yet my bones don’t contract and creak, snap and crack in the middle of the night (I hope!) although I must admit that I make my own share of other odd noises. Some part of my mind tells me it’s more than the house settling. It’s them, “the others” who float and pass through walls, coming back to visit old haunts. There are too many stories and TV shows of such for it not to be a possibility. Whatever the cause, the sounds continue and I keep looking under the bed and in the closet each night.
There are many nights when I find the birds deciding to create a racket at 2 o’clock in the morning, not because of some predator approaching; the sound is too much of a social tweet than an alarming squawk. No, it’s because they can. “Bird attitude.” Whether the “aviary bars” close after last-call at 1:30AM or whatnot, certain arrogant birds decide to “take it outside” for a few hours in the middle of the night. The whole concept of “the early bird gets the worm” is being pushed way past it limits. These birds aren’t hunting for worms, they’re settling in the branches right outside our bedroom windows warbling to their hearts content knowing we can’t do anything about it. My wife and I have gone to placing ear plugs in our ears (cotton for me, more serious high-tech rubber plugs for her) when we need to keep the windows open for the air. Of course, if that‘s not enough, there’s the northern mockingbird that has a piercing tweet, a repertoire of over 400 songs and the ability to imitate other sounds for the full duration of the night. Its scientific name Mimus polyglottos is Greek for “many tongues.” Frikkin’ charming.
I recall years back when living in Victoria Beach in one of my many beach rentals (an old house converted into apartments terraced on the side of a hill), a mockingbird decided to settle in a tree alongside the house for a period of months. Being on the bottom floor, therefore the downhill end of the hillside, my apartment and bedroom were a bit removed from tree canopy and the “direct line of fire.” Irritating none-the-less. However my friend’s apartment and bedroom on the top floor of the building with its grand ocean view, were directly adjacent to the tree’s canopy. There were many nights when in addition to the racket of this non-stop piercing tweet, my buddy would be extended two-thirds of the way out of the top floor window, half in and half out of the tree, 3 o’clock in the morning, yelling and screaming at the bird, flaying at it to leave and never return. I don’t think that bird ever moved more than a foot beyond where it could be reached. Bird attitude.
The lonely howl of the coyote is another sound that often pierces the night, penetrates the sleep. It seems no matter where I live there are coyotes howling in harmony with comrades to the world at large, acting like “high plain drifters.” To me it’s kind of romantic in an old world sort of way to awaken and hear these eerie howls in the middle of the night, short of the fact I had been comfortably asleep. My wife finds nothing romantic about them…or the moment! We have a small neighborhood park below our home where they often gather, howling at the moon (I like to think). While the coyote’s howl is not all that bothersome to me the all-too-soon racket of the neighborhood dogs barking in reply is irritating as hell! Unfortunately the owners of the dogs hear neither the howls nor the barking for the dogs continue for far too long, which in turn keeps the coyotes going, a cacophony of canine noise in the deep hours of the night. And…with no prospect of romance at that hour…once again, the ear plugs.
Not all the sounds of the night come from the outside, the house, ghosts or the boogie man. I make my fair share of nocturnal noises as well, some of which wake my wife…solved with a loving tap or stern elbow to quiet me down. I wake myself up with other sounds I make. I have a habit of making deep snort-like noises on occasion when I take a deep breath in my sleep…throws me out of whack enough to wake me to hear the ending echoes of the sound. I snore to, not always but enough, and often wake myself with the deep growl that often frightens me knowing the source is from within. My wife, well lets just say she sleeps perfect and leave it at that. Oh, and I like to blame the coyotes for no romance in the deep of the night….nothing to do with me and my sounds.
But the most unusual sound that has awakened me in the night, popped me right out of bed for years on end, was not of animal or house, car or plane, ghost or myself. It was the frightening, loud, intimidating sound of my father grinding his teeth while deep in his sleep at the other end of the hall. Dad was a snorer, no doubt about, one of the best at it. But the ability he had to create this nerve rattling inhuman sound from grinding his teeth together when he slept, and have any teeth left in the morning, to this day baffles me. I’ve tried to make the tiniest of sounds pushing my teeth together hard and rubbing back and forth, only to create much discomfort and hardly a sound. The fact that my Mother slept with that sound for 42 years is equally amazing. But from this terrible noise came the most humorous, albeit loud, response from my Mother that I am sure neighbors, on summer evening with windows open in the wee hours of the morning, heard all around the block. Said loud, forcefully and with quite an edge to it, my brother, sister and I would eventually here….”Eddie, Eddie, get up and go to the bathroom”….apparently a sure cure for teeth grinding…. often followed quickly with “Eddie, Eddie, that’s not the bathroom, that’s the closet.” Probably not much romance in that room deep in the night either!
Ahhh, the sounds of the night.
G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.