Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on June 29, 1974.
THERE IS SOMETHING about the night that emphasizes sound. There is something that causes sound to carry. Distant sounds come closer — near sounds grow louder.
When walking through a closed-in wood, a night sound makes one flutter. The unknown, the unseen, the mysterious sets us to tingling. We are apt to be apprehensive of what we do not know. And it is this uncertainty that gives us pause. An owl hooting at the right time, or perhaps I should say at the wrong time, can startle even the hardiest of souls.
But, even so, I like to walk the woods at night. I follow a path through trees almost as easily in the dark as I can during the day. I look up toward the sky and I see the ground better than when I took directly at it. I can’t explain why — there must be a good explanation but I don’t worry about what it is. All I know is it works for me.
I walk softly and yet when my foot breaks a stick it seems as though the whole woods should wake. Sometimes my walking disturbs a slumbering bird and it will wake long enough to sing for me a chorus of its song. Then it will go quiet and I presume tuck its head beneath its wing and fall asleep. When I get near the brook I hear its music. How beautiful its singing! There is something lyrical about falling water.
And then there is rain ...
In the daytime I see rain fall and, unless it is really pelting down, I rarely hear it. But at night rain is loud. It is as though each drop was a tuning fork that had been immediately struck.
When I lie in bed and listen through an open window I seem to think I hear every drop hit a leaf. And then again the rain comes all at once. And the noise is all together. I picture in my mind swinging leaves, as they’re touched by the rain, dancing to a lively tune. The music never is monotonous for it is made of varied notes. The tempo changes, the sound changes. Now loud and rapid does the rain fall. Now slowly does the rain flow. And while the leaves tremble, the bark runs black.
And then I hear it in the distance — thunder. The rolling timpani comes closer. Then, as suddenly as a clashing cymbal, the lightning scribbles across the sky. It lights the hillside bright, then brighter. In the light I see the trees begin to bend and weave — tossing branches holding leaves. Green glistens out of darkness. With such brilliance does the lightning flash that I see the reddened green of trees after black dark has come again.
Summer storm oft goes as quickly as it comes. And when all is quiet save but the lessening rain, a soothing silence covers the valley, and sleep comes easily.
Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.