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Listening to night sounds, and more

September 30, 2018

Listening to night-sounds, and more

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Recently our family enjoyed our week-long end-of-summer tradition: camping along the shores of Lake Champlain.

The Adirondack Mountains tower to the west, to the east rise the Green Mountains, and the lake stretches north, crossing the Canadian border into Quebec.

In this place — now sacred to our family — at the shore’s edge, around the campfire and under the cover of sugar maples, red oaks and white pines, there is space and time for my wife, Lori, and me to notice and appreciate the ways in which our daughter, Zoe, and son, Adam, have matured since our last visit.

So after rushing to wrap up work details, jamming loads of gear into the car, driving four hours, setting up camp and then starting to relax, we were all excited to crawl into our family tent, where we each lay silently reading, as the coals from our first campfire of the trip grew dim. One by one headlamps switched off, as tiredness gave way to sleep — for the others — while I lay listening to the night sounds.

The sounds seemed to grow louder as I listened, almost overwhelmingly so. I noticed the steady buzz was really an uninterrupted cacophony of discrete sounds. I was certain some sounds were crickets, emitting chirps by rubbing a hind leg and wing together. I later learned that katydids, also called tree crickets, which play their song by rubbing wings together, were also members of this nocturnal ensemble. Together, these tiny creatures created a pulsing rhythm comprised of high and low pitches, and a whirling and winding that would crescendo, then start anew, endlessly, throughout the night.

How many crickets and katydids inhabit the woods surrounding our tent, I wondered. How distant does the sound of a single cricket, and a chorus, travel? How long does a cricket chirp — do they tire and take a break while others sing, or do they all continuously chirp until morning’s light? I wondered, too, what the sounds meant: what were the inhabitants of these woods speaking — and hearing — each night?

The nightly practice of listening and wondering attuned my hearing to other sounds as well. Each evening, as Adam and I strolled to and from the campground’s showers, his inner thoughts spilled into the cool, quiet air.

“Why is campground toilet paper so thin,” he mused one night, which led to a conversation about the seemingly unrelated topics of economics and wiping, as we strolled back to our tent.

“Can you snort?” he rhetorically asked, on another evening’s walk. Without pausing, he continued, as if he had rehearsed a demonstration speech for school. “I have three snorts. A short – snort! A long – s n o r t! And a loud – SNORT!! I can make music.” And, he did.

Each cloudless night, amidst a string of other topics, we noticed the night sky, too. Adam wondered aloud about the stars, planets and the glow of the waxing, nearly full moon, revealing mysteries of his richly, developing mind and curiosity.

My listening — to Adam and the crickets — deepened during our week in the woods, bringing me closer to my surroundings, family and myself. And with Adam now 9 years-old (as of 12:40 p.m. on the day we drove to the campground!) and Zoe nearing 12, my wife Lori and I realize the importance of preserving this — and other — family rituals, cherishing the special moments, close connection and life insights they afford.

So, at 9:00 a.m. sharp, on the first business day of September, I logged onto the campground website and, with much surprise and delight, successfully reserved our favorite camp site for August 2019. At dinner that night, we all lifted our glasses in celebratory toast! And later, after the others were asleep, in the darkness of night I padded to the kitchen sink for a glass of water. Through the open window I heard the chorus of night sounds, reminding me to listen.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

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