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BOB KORNEGAY: Listening to nature

OUTDOORS: The transition from daytime sights to nighttime sounds in the woods is wondrous

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

As night falls, there comes a wondrous change to the springtime woods, a perceptible transition from sight to sound. The daytime matinee curtain closes and the forest becomes a voluminous darkened concert hall, a vast venue of nocturnal sound. Sight gives way to the sensual stimulation of newly acute auditory faculties. It’s a cheap ticket, requiring no admission save dousing the campfire and switching off the lantern.

The great horned owl is the opening act, lulling the listener with his lilting hoot before startling him into wakefulness with a bloodcurdling screech. Bubo has a warped sense of humor; forgivable, I suppose, after being driven to distraction by enemy crows all day. Soon he quiets down and begins his nightly rounds. Too bad crows aren’t active at night. There’d be hell to pay. Tonight the rodents and rabbits shall feel his piercing talons instead.

A coyote pack makes its presence known, far away at first, then closer. How many? Hard to tell. Three can sound like 20. The yips and high-pitched howls are eerie, but somehow pleasing. Old Songdog. An apt nickname. The riotous crescendo peaks then fades as the pack moves away. They’re onto scent. The hapless prey, barring a miracle, is doomed.

Br’er Bobcat screams. Or is it Br’er Coon? Can’t really say. I’ve always found it hard to tell which is which. Doesn’t really matter. It’s always spine-tingling and just a little scary, however often I hear it and despite its harmlessness. Why either screams I’m also not certain. Is it courtship, self defense, or just plain fun?

The scream of the rabbit is no mystery. It is the only squeal he’ll ever utter. The owl has hit his mark. There will be fresh meat for the hungry owlets in the high-pine nest tonight. That is if the unfortunate bunny is not too big and heavy to lift. Bubo must hurry away with his prize. The coyotes have heard the squeal as well. They’re getting closer.

Low rumbling somewhere in the distance. A spring-night thundershower. Where? Who’s to say? Atmospheric echoes are different in the woods at night, hard to pinpoint. The tree canopy makes it difficult to spot the lightning. No matter. My tent is a tight one. Can’t say we really need the rain right now, though. The leaves rustle as the nightwind freshens.

Another rumble, this one gastrointestinal. Should’ve eaten. I’ve stayed awake long enough to get hungry. I check my stash. Let’s see. Mustard sardines? Vyeenees, maybe? Why not both? They’ll fill me up and maybe even attract a ‘possum or two. I like ‘possums. They’re living proof that even the ugliest and stupidest among us can be successful.

Whoa. What’s that? Whip-poor-will? No. Chuck-will’s-widow. A little late at night for him, I’d think. He’s normally a late-evening bird.

For the first time today I hear the creek. It’s quiet enough at night to make that possible. Not much of a sound, really. Barely discernible; just a watery whisper as it flows past the cypress boles. Blackwater streams are lazier than those in the mountains. They run thickly and slowly, like molasses. A fish strikes the surface. A feeding bass, most likely.

Rain now. Better zip the flaps. I never minded getting wet, but I can’t sleep that way. Sure sounds good falling through the leaves. Wonder how long it’ll last. Gonna play hell with my morning fire-making for certain.

It’s getting heavier. Sounds like snare drumming on the tent cloth. Nothing but rain, though. No big wind. Not a lot of lightning. Dry as a bone in here. Love Coleman tents. Always have.

Getting sleepy at last. I’m a little warm with the flaps all zipped, but it’s not all that bad. Be pretty humid tomorrow after this shower, but that’s okay. I’ll break camp early.

It’s a good night. I like being alone in the woods like this. Lots of cool things to listen to out here.

No cars, no television, no people.

And no worries.

Bob Kornegay writes about outdoors for The Albany Herald.