What’s that Sound? Why Did it Stop?

A comment on Wednesday’s post reminded me of a recent experience. Humans lack the super hearing of things like bats, felines, and prey animals. Some of us, for various reasons, lack even the quality of hearing we were born with – exposure to loud noises, illness, age, all of the above. I can tell the amount of background noise I ignore by how loud I have to turn up my car radio in order to understand the words. The louder the day at work, the louder the car. If there’s no heater/AC blower on at home? Much quieter music. Retreating to a quiet environment can help re-sensitize us, to a point, but it can’t undo damage.

Sounds that shouldn’t be there, and that then stop, set off all my alarms. Sounds that should be present, and then stop, also mean possible trouble. “Why did the birds just go silent?”are famous last-words-before-the-fight and used often in novels and movies. I’ve become more than a little wary over the past year or so as strangers have become more common around RedQuarters, and small crimes increased. And attempted big crime. I listen more at night, especially if I have a window partly open.* I know what sounds I should hear, which dogs go off at random and which alert to someone in the alley or on the sidewalk.

It was around two in the morning, and Nature had called, so I got up. I opened the window a whisker bit, and planned to close it again once I finished what I needed to do. As I came back to the bedroom, something rustled and crunched, as if it walked through the leaves and so on outside the house. Then the sound stopped. I stopped moving and listened harder. Go for the gun before peering out the small gap in the curtain? Was it the fox, or a cat, or a person? Based on *coughcough* years of past experience, the odds are that a cat, fox, opossum, or other nocturnal, four-footed creature made the sound. That’s usually the case. But trouble has been growing in the city, and I couldn’t rule out a possible human intruder. So I listened very hard, peered as best I could through the gap in the curtains without allowing myself to be seen, and waited.

Nothing. The nothing stretched longer and longer. Had the person also frozen, waiting as well? Did he know I was listening? Or had the animal moved through the area of leaves and now trotted up the block, oblivious to the concerned human peering into the darkness? Still I waited.

After five minutes, the sound had not resumed. I risked closing the window (and possibly alerting a watcher to my presence) and went to bed. Where I lay for several more minutes, listening, wondering, waiting.

I’ve been stalked by four-footed predators in the past, once by a bobcat, once by something I did not go plunging into the tall grass (two meters tall) and brush to identify. Likewise by two-footed. The four-footed have not yet hurt me. The same cannot be said for the two-footed (assault with bruises, nothing more serious). Was it an overactive imagination, paranoia, or experience that kept me up that night? Or all of the above?

Sound, then the sound stopped, save for the pounding of my heart in my ears as I listened hard for what might be Out There.

*Not when I go to sleep, no. I fear those days are past when it was safe to leave a window open a tiny bit for fresh air during the night.

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12 thoughts on “What’s that Sound? Why Did it Stop?

  1. Most modern windows have stops that will prevent the window from opening more than a few inches if you engage them.

    There are also safety chains you can install that do the same thing. (Had to keep the psych case from wandering around the roof at night. Window stops only keep people out.)

    I hope tonight is more restful!

    • Even if it doesn’t, a strategically placed bar (wood or metal) can keep a window from being opened more than a given amount. I had to do this when I elected to use a window-mounted port widget for ham radio connections. I really didn’t want to drill holes through the outside wall. A fitted 1 x 2 keeps the window closed on the passthrough.

    • These crank open outward, so I’d need to drill a hole in the steel frame of the window, and another hole in the wooden frame of the wall and the brick. I’m not sure that system would work all that well.

  2. Our hearing is remarkable in one way. If we have both ears working, we can identify the direction from whick a single, brief sound comes more accurately than almost any animal. When this was first noted, back (I think) in the 1980s, only the barn owl was found to be better. Since then, a very few more animals have been found with our accuracy, but not many.

    In the late 80s it was noted that this ability did not extend to pure tones around 8 kHz, which was the common beep and alarm range for electronic watches of that era.

  3. The sound I alert to is one of my dogs growling. Their hearing is much better than mine, and they let me know if someone approaches my house. I don’t need a doorbell.
    They also alert to wildlife (deer under my bedroom window), but make a different sound.
    City life is scarier than country life. I worry more about people than I do animals.

  4. In a previous life I was an operator at a nuclear test reactor. Common noises (pumps running, water flowing, fans running, etc.) faded into the background until something that should be there wasn’t. Immediate alert status, go find out what happened, and if possible why. Not like being stalked by something or someone (other than Murphy) with evil intent, but the brain adapts to its environment and unexpected change immediately goes to the reptile brain for potential action while the higher brain sorts out what happened.

    • Like airplane engines – the drone is familiar, and any slight variation attracts attention. (We will not discuss “auto-rough”, the irregular sound that develops at night over water, or when flying way-the-heck in the middle of no-where.)

  5. I am blessed in that I live in a place where I feel perfectly comfortable leaving my french doors open at night with just a screen separating me from the outdoors. Well at least in the summer, now, not so much. I am also a light enough sleeper that the sound of the solenoid closing on the outdoor security light wakes me up. It goes off a few time a night and I get up sometimes to see what is passing through. I have caught elk, a lot of deer, and once a bobcat, wandering through the back yard. Oh, and a whole bunch of the four footed brand of coyotes.

  6. In my life, three sounds have always been able to pull me out of a sound sleep: an AM radio which is slightly off frequency, a noisy door hinge, and a pet getting ready to barf. The other, might-be-trouble sounds wake up the cats first, and their growling alerts me before I hear them.
    Stay safe

    • I heartily concur on the “pet with digestive distress” alarm! That’s one of the reasons there are two flashlights within easy reach of my bed – the sound of a sick cat somewhere between me and the light switch.

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