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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sounds in the Night

It has been a very long time since I slept well, so I spend a lot of time awake, listening to the sounds of the night.

Because I live on the edge of a city of about 90,000 people, in an area where the lots are all 1/2 acre, I seldom hear my neighbors. And the roads in this part of town are unpaved, so traffic, such as it is, usually moves fairly slowly.

One recent night found me awake at some ridiculous hour. My bedroom window was slightly open, so I could hear coyotes howling. Their howling started neighborhood dogs barking. Fortunately, my dogs were sound asleep and didn't respond to the howls and barks. I heard traffic on the big street a few blocks away, and then a jet overhead. Later that night (it was actually very early morning), I heard a train whistle as it sped along. I also heard one of my dogs whimpering in her sleep. 

I love the sounds of a peaceful night. When I lived in northern California, it seemed there was always a jet flying overhead (I was only a few miles from the San Jose airport), and blocks from a busy expressway. Even late at night I heard racing motorcycles, speeding cars and squawking ambulances or other emergency vehicles. And like many in northern California, my house was just a few feet from my neighbor. She was in her 80s and hard of hearing, so her television volume was very loud.

My most unusual, and startling, night sound happened a couple of years ago in Botswana. The first camp a friend and I stayed in was just outside Chobe National Park, and it had no fence around it. (Some African parks are surrounded by electric fences, but most are not). Animals were free to come and go. One night I was blasted out of bed by a single, very loud and very near trumpet of an elephant. I must have levitated about 2 feet above my bed. It took a while for my heart to return to its normal rhythm. After talking with another guest at breakfast, we decuded that the elephant must have been between our tents.

Last spring I was on safari in South Africa, again in a camp with no fencing. As I lay in my tent waiting to fall asleep, I listened to the roaring of nearby lions and the trumpeting of elephants. During my first safari, in Kenya, I could hear zebra and hippos nearby. Camp was located near a river, and hippos leave the safety of the water after dark to feed on vegetation (and any crops they can get to). And in Tanzania, one of the camp staff was walking me to my tent after dinner and scanning the area with a large flashlight. "There's a buffalo beside your tent," he said quietly. "Don't worry. Just keep the flaps down and you'll be fine." I got ready for bed very quietly that night. The buffalo also remained silent. 

It's always a bit unnerving to think that nothing more than a canvas tent (albeit a sturdy one) separates me from some potentially dangerous animals. But it's so nice to know that some of our planet's wonderful wildlife are so close that I can hear them going about their business.