As we get deeper into the fall months, I am forced to close the windows at night to keep my home from dropping into uncomfortably cold temperatures. With the closing off of the outdoors comes an unsettling feeling of stillness that I am never prepared for despite it happening year after year. When I close the windows, I am not just keeping out the cold night air as it dips down, but I am also shutting out the noises the outside world makes.
On any given warm summer night, in between the cars driving by, the voices from the hotel parking lot nearby and the occasional wailing of the fire station alarm, I find what feels like silence. This “silence” is actually filled by a rotating cast of various small animals making noise in the grass by the fences, wind and rain, the sounds of birds in the trees or flying over the lake, and the nightly yowling of the local cats. I am cognizant that these ambient noises happen, but I am not always fully aware of them until they are missing. Everyone has a different selection of nighttime animal noises depending on where they live. Maybe you have coyotes that yip and call around your house, owls hooting and screeching, or even have a bobcat, fisher, or fox screaming and occasionally sounding like something from a horror movie.
It takes a couple weeks every autumn to fully adjust each year to the lack of noise at night with my closed windows. The world is never completely silent, but all of a sudden, the background noise becomes lesser. The noises are fewer and they come in bursts such as the footsteps from the children running across the apartment upstairs or the quick conversation in the hallway. I miss the constant hum that comes from the natural world outside.
Still, I eventually accept and become comfortable in the quiet as we move into winter, which feels appropriate when I think about walks in the snowy woods. If you have ever taken a walk when snow has accumulated on the ground, you will notice the dampening of sounds. The crunch of your footsteps and the calling of animals are still there, but everything has a sort of hush to it with the snow. The soundtrack of your daily life and of nature varies by season, weather, and time of day. Take a moment to think about it and you will probably realize that you have certain sounds you associate with varying times of the year.
Winter feels quiet, what with the disappearance of thunderstorms or pounding rain and the increase in softer snow along with the migration and decreased activity of many animals. As we roll into spring, the sounds seem to explode forward after the seemingly quiet winter. The migrating birds return, and even those that stuck around all winter begin to call more as they look for mates and prepare nesting spots. Eventually the frogs join the chorus, chipmunks and squirrels start chattering and a host of other animals add to the symphony that is the outdoors.
These animals continue on during summer, but it is still interesting to see how the sounds change when you hit the hottest part of the day versus a couple hours after sunset, or the way it sounds right before a thunderstorm.
Sometimes we hear sounds that confuse us. Remember that chorus of frogs you heard in the spring? Well, guess what? When fall comes around again, so do the Spring Peepers. That high pitched chirp you hear in October or even in the winter if it is warm enough might be a frog and not a bird.
Often people talk about smells reminding you of a place or event in your life. The noises that you don’t think of, the ones happening in the background, can also do this. Spring peepers in the fall remind me of leading night hikes in Wisconsin. They were also so loud as I walked down the hill towards the pond. Spring in that same location brings to memory the calling of a Whip-poor-will, a bird whose call informed its rather unfortunate name. There can be sounds from nature that bring up specific memories and emotions just as a song might.
Much of the time we go about our day relegating most sounds to background noise, which makes absolute sense. If you were fully aware of every noise all the time, you would be constantly overwhelmed, but if you never stop to be fully present and really focus on listening to all of the sounds around you every now and again, you’ll probably also miss a lot of really cool things going on around you. Take some time to listen. See how the sounds cycle through the days and seasons and remember that although sight is a wonderful observation tool, it’s not the only option.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.