Posts Tagged ‘night’

“I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.”

– from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 29


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I am a traveler in the forest. Winding my way through the dark, through a light snow and through the trees toward the trail that will take me back to the road. I see my breath against the clear sky where a slim crescent moon and a brilliant evening star shine the brightest.

I am one who listens to the night. Waiting for a song or a call in the distance but all I hear is the wind in the branches of nearby trees. Blowing across some of these creates a whistling sound. Blowing against others causes a percussion effect. Tonight’s entertainment is acoustic and instrumental.

I am a weather watcher. I think of Annie Dillard’s comment “We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”

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I just heard a chorus frog. They are identifiable because they make a sound that may remind you of the noise you hear when you drag your thumb across the teeth of a comb. They are not the only singers I hear tonight. More often I am hearing wood frogs. Their song may remind you of a quack. Behind me are two barred owls creating a ruckus. But by far the dominant songs tonight are from spring peepers. How can such a loud sound come from such a small creature? It is a miracle that anything else can be heard at all.

I am on South Mountain, strangely named since it is the northernmost mountain of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. It is a cool night, I can see my breath. There is a clear sky, the spring stars have a soundtrack. Or these songs come with a light show. Either way, this is quite a concert.

Last week I was traveling. My route took me through and around the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains get their name because they look blue from a distance due to the isoprene released in the atmosphere by broadleaf trees. (Look at me using the language of organic chemistry). I followed these mountains north. The weather was warm. The windows were down. The radio was on. And I sang loudly. I am sure the mountains could hear me. Sometimes I was Don Henley, sometimes Willie Nelson, sometimes Tom Petty. I was Robert Plant, Dave Grohl, and Charlie Daniels. I am pretty sure I was Taylor Swift a couple of times and at least once I was Debby Harry. That’s right. Call me… Anytime.

The Blue Ridge Mountains begin in Georgia, peak in North Carolina, and travel north into Pennsylvania. And tonight on their northernmost ridge, the mountains sing to me. Perhaps to repay the favor. Perhaps to show me how it is really done. But I am glad to be on the receiving end of this song.


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Last week, I went camping.  I had camped at this site before and have always enjoyed the sound of the nearby Laurel Run.  On this night the water was particularly forceful due to rain we had earlier that day.  There have been other sounds that I have enjoyed from this spot before; a ruffed grouse drumming in the spring, a whip-poor-will on a summer night.  And I was looking forward to what November night sounds I might be able to listen in on.

I like to be outside in the forest when night happens.  But this night was different from the start.  For one, there was a strong wind all night long.  The wind was at times indistinguishable from the stream.  I could not tell where the stream ended and the wind began.  I was surrounded by noise and it seemed like I was surrounded by stream.  Sometimes, it sounded as if the stream was overhead.  The Laurel Run had merged with other water and become Red Oak Run or Hemlock Run.  It was rushing through the treetops, bringing leaves downstream onto the tent.  The noise of the wind blew in ominous harmony with the stream all night.

Other nights from this site I had stared up into space from a clearing in the forest canopy to enjoy a view of the night sky.  Tonight was different.  It was dark, no stars in view.  There was no sign of the moon.  When the fire died, visibility was not possible without a headlamp.

It was noisy.  There was plenty of November night sound.  All night long leaves were smacking against the tent.  It seemed as if every falling leaf in the forest was zeroed in on my location.  This added percussion to the threatening song of the wind and water.  The wind woke me no fewer than four times.  I had gotten used to most of the noises but when the wind attempts to separate your tent from the ground it is difficult to ignore.

It was cold.  You don’t really notice this when sitting up close to a fire.  I was reading when it began to sleet.  I used that as a cue to enter the tent.  The ground was cold but I had along a ground cover that provided some insulation.  The fire kept me warm but went out sometime before midnight.  I know this because the cold woke me about that time.

The closer to morning, the darker it seemed to get.  But the wind began to calm.  Not long before sunrise, it was calm enough that a loud, mysterious trill could be heard from a nearby tree.  The Eastern Screech Owl makes a big noise for a small bird.  And it can be startling when your ears are tuned in to other sounds of the night.

Night comes and with it, comes darkness, mystery, and surprise.  Things hide in the dark without our knowledge.  Things can be aware of us before we are aware of them.  We can make our best guess, but we really do not know what is out there.  We cannot know what will blow in next or what the next sound will be or even where the next noise will come from.  But, at least we can be there when it happens.


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