Sounds of the night…

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    One of my earliest Wyoming memories came on summer vacations from Blytheville, Arkansas where my dad was stationed with the Strategic Air Command of the US Air Force. Four years of traveling across Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska on the still graveled US Highway 2, or another route through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado found us in the best season that the Cowboy State can offer, and the best locale in Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

    I slept on the couch, under a wide expanse of single-pane glass windows facing the south. The lower end of those windows slid up in the 1940s vintage home, and at night, I fell asleep to the sound of the wind caressing the linden, spruce, black walnut, and cottonwood trees outside. The sound was magical, the song of the wind in the darkness. It’s a sound I still listen for today, in our home just 50 yards east of my grandparent’s original home.


    The wind is a strange, all too familiar companion to those of us choosing to live on the high desert of Wyoming. It brings storms, warm spells, and can quickly erase our best efforts to irrigate crops, but it’s the sound of it that is incomparable.

    Many nights as a youngster I was determined to either stay up all night or wake up early to catch the Morning Star milkman delivering packages of butter, and glass bottles of milk and cream to the little silver insulated box on my grandparents’ front porch. In dozens of attempts, I was never successful. I always fell asleep and didn’t wake up until he was long gone.

    The sounds of the night haunt many people. They’ve haunted mankind since we first gathered in caves and primitive dwellings to thwart the dangers that lurked in the darkness.

    This mystery surrounding the darkness, and the sounds that come from the void have been around a long time, perhaps the best-known statement on it comes from John Chapter 1, Verse 5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”


    Comprehending or not, when a strange sound comes in out of utter darkness, something vestigial makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up.

    A clunk in the kitchen at 3 am has many reaching for a shotgun in the closet or a baseball bat to go check out the noise. Your mind runs wild with speculation in times like these.

    One night as I rode with my family back to Arkansas, for my grandfather Forrest’s funeral, that wild speculation came to the fore. We stopped in a little town in Missouri for the night, with my parents, my little sister and me sharing a motel room. At that magic witching hour of 3 am, my sister Susie sat upright and yelled, “He’s got my feet!.”


    Ever the courageous big brother, I flew out of the rollaway I had been sleeping on and tackled the intruder that had her feet. Only there was no intruder, I dived into thin air, bouncing on the floor at the foot of the bed where she was sleeping. Night noises, sometimes they’re obviously magnified by imagination and no doubt light sleeping.

    Living in the country, night noises are not as common as those experienced by inner city folk, but the sound of a bellowing bull, or the telltale noises cows make when they’ve broken out and found a midnight snack at the haystack are common.

    If you live in or near Riverton, the constant wail of sirens exceeds the 2 am sounds of downtown Chicago, Detroit, or Los Angeles, it’s part of our ambiance. The same can be said of the constant drone of helicopter rotors as the sick and injured are transported from the first aid station on West Sunset to real medical care in Casper, Salt Lake City, or Denver on a much too regular basis.


    Those are night sounds I can live without.

    People differ in their opinion of what separates a song in the night from just another noise.

    John Denver touched on this in “Back Home Again.”

    “There’s a storm across the valley, clouds are rolling in. The afternoon is heavy on your shoulders. There’s a truck out on the four lane, a mile or more away, the whining of his wheels just makes it colder.”

    Thunderstorms terrify some people, my grandma Sally was deathly afraid of lightning, wind, and the occasional tornado that swept through their eastern Arkansas farm, but I thoroughly enjoy both the symphony of thunder and the accompanying blast of light that comes with lightning.

    In 1981 we were driving back from a November volleyball tournament in Harrison, Nebraska in a heavy snowstorm. I’d seen all types of weather living in Puerto Rico, Arkansas, California, and Wyoming, but this was the first time I witnessed a snowy thunderstorm. Thick, heavy snowflakes already piled several inches deep on the roadside were lit up like a giant flashbulb by lightning, it was magnificent.

    A couple of years ago, I was duck hunting at a friend’s pond a couple of miles from our home with my son, son-in-law, and his brother. It was a cold December afternoon, about 15 below zero. We met after work at the “Witching Hour” when daylight melds into darkness.

    The rosy glow of the sky, blended in shades of pink and blue, with darkness visible to the east, coming in like a curtain dropped across the horizon.

    The highway was about a mile-and-a-half away and we could see traffic rolling along towards town, and then hear the rumbling of 18-wheeler tires several seconds after they came into view. The speed of sound was evident that evening.

    The wind, mixed with distant traffic, the whistling of duck wings as they came in to roost for the night on the open water of the pond, and the quiet quacks and warbles of the birds as they communicated with each other were a more magnificent symphony than anything man could devise no matter how large the orchestra.

    It wasn’t quite dark, but you could hear it coming, before the light faded away.

    A final quote on the sound of darkness from J.R.R. Tolkien, “It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.”


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