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Night Sounds


Copyright Chuck Bealke, 1998

When we moved from the city to my grandfather's farm, I was 12 years old.   At that age I was a bit of an information sponge and did not miss too much going on around me.  I must really have paid attention to sounds, as I remember many of them over forty years later.   Our window air conditioners followed us to the farm (quite a luxury for rural folks at that time) and droned on to put and keep us asleep during hot nights, so I doubtless missed some of the wee hour stirrings. But I spent a fair amount of time outdoors after dark and would sometimes dine on the big screened porch on the front of our house, so I came to know the sounds of nocturnal creatures well.   Cicadas and crickets abounded.  In addition to whippoorwills and birds that you could hear at dusk, we would occasionally hear owls.  Screech owls were rather eerie.  Seemed like they would perch in trees along a creek near the house, and you could hear their piercing, almost womanish cry very clearly.  Sounds carried.   If there were kids playing outdoors at nearby farms or their dogs barking, you heard them.  Noises from trucks a couple of miles off  and from closer screen doors slamming and vehicles starting were common.  Because our Polled  Herefords had brass number tags hung on chains around their necks, if they were moving or grazing, we knew it.  The tinkling was kind of gentle and reassuring - a bit like the patter of a gentle rain.  When the air was still and of just the right humidity, you could hear train locomotives at a far off crossing and dirt track car races in the same town the train passed through.  Cars or (more rarely) wagons with metal wheels moving on gravel  roads on adjoining farms were no secret.   On a few nights you might hear or see someone plowing in the distance.  The clattering and roar of a combine in a field was uncommon but recognizable. There were not so many airplanes at night as there are now,  and I noticed them a lot more then. Always tried to figure from the lights and engine noise whether they were Connies or DC-3s, -4s or -6s, but never got very good at telling them apart.   I was envious of the passengers but far more so of their captains.  They were normally inbound for the St. Louis airport when they passed over.  That place was and is on a big road renamed from Denny to Lindbergh after the area's, and indeed the world's, most famous pilot.  Seems like I saw the abrupt surprize called Sputnik one night over our alfalfa patch near the house.   When the wind blew strong before a storm, it made powerful leaf thrashing noises moving through the trees along the creek.  Darkness somehow caused this noise to seem more ominous.   While most night noises were not intrusive, rackets caused by four legged intruders in the chicken house or nights of endless bawling of cows that had been deliberately separated from their calves were definitely unwelcome.  But along with morning reminders from a rooster, I miss the nightly sound show on our farm. Like the daytime display it varied with the season.  Though it was diminished by winter, that was but a temporary pause before the next renewal.

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