What squeaks at night in the fall? I know, that sounds like a joke, right? (the answer would be “a Fall Night-Squeaker”) As written, it’s an impossible question, and though I can elaborate, I don’t think I can tell you enough to enable you to actually answer. But I think if you heard the sound, you might know it.You might think it was obvious.
I like listening to things, especially at night. Once, weeks ago, I not only listened to, I actually saw a cricket, or whatever kind of insect it was, playing the violin of its tiny wings at night, a rough, two-note song. This is the only time, so far, I've managed to it because insects are such private singers. They stop as soon as they realize you are trying to find them, and then without the sound they are worse than needles to try to find in the grass. This time the song came from a bush, about eye-level, one of those shrubs near the bike rack on campus, I think they are dogwoods, the singer hidden effectively by the dark. So I used the light from my bicycle. I've noticed some animals ignore artificial light, probably because few predators have carried flashlights throughout evolutionary time. I and my flashlight were out of the range of this insect's experience, irrelevant as starlight, and I shall not tell you what I saw in that light because it felt less like invading some unwitting insect's privacy and more like receiving a deliberately offered grace. It was a grace, and I'm not sure I will ask for another.
Today I’ve been listening to the rain on the roof of the trailer, steady and long and wet. It’s a very cozy sound to hear, when one has the privilege of being dry and warm. Sometimes there are more mysterious sounds: the bonging of distant church bells tolling the hour late at night; the gallop or whinny of horses in the next field over, animals we never see and which Chris does not believe exist; the conversation of owls…I hear barred owls over in the trees by the river sometimes, one or two calling back and forth. The other day we heard something else, another owl, deeper and with a different pattern. A great horned owl, maybe? I've heard them before, though not here, and not often enough to be sure I'm remembering properly.
The other night, Chris suggested keeping the windows open so we could hear any crickets. This was not a self-serving move on his part. Chris likes sleeping with a fan going, for white noise. Twenty years of rural living has left him unable to ignore traffic sounds, and he cannot hear the crickets anyway. I do not like the fan; I grew up between a big university and its football field, so I can ignore almost anything and still hear crickets underneath. Except I cannot ignore that fan. I think it’s interesting that Chris can hear a faint buzz and know not only that a plane is going by, but also what kind of plane it is and what it is doing, but he cannot hear the horses or the crickets. This goes beyond selective deafness for the sake of sleep; he and I live in different worlds, it seems. His world includes planes and cars, trucks, human beings and most of their doings (he knows who all the other people in the campground are and what they’re doing, and I don’t know how he knows it), and also birds. When we were riding our bikes down the bike trail this summer, he would say “witchity-witchity!” which means he has heard a common yellowthroat, a truly lovely bird, I decided, when I finally saw one. I still couldn’t hear its song, even knowing that it is supposed to say witchity-witchity, but I can hear Chris. And he can hear me.
Listening to human beings does not come easily to me, for it involves not talking, a difficult thing for a writer to do. We are creatures of monologue, fundamentally, whatever else we are. But a writer who cannot listen soon runs out of things to write about, runs out of readers, runs out, I suspect, of companionship. Without Chris, who would tell me to drink water when I forget? Who would anchor me when I drift off? So I do my best. And at least half of the time, I let Chris keep his fan.
I have been married not quite two years yet. I have known my mate just five years, plus some months. I’m learning. You know more about these things than I do, for better or worse, and what you know of these things are among the many things I cannot ask you about. I am not asking you now. There are a lot of questions I’ve thought to ask you at one time or another, and probably will not get to. What is that squeaking at night? Do geese fart? When the swallows left our mud bank here by the river, did they head south, or did they only disperse to hunt bugs over other fields now that the kids were up and gone? Most of these questions I suppose I could ask, if I only had the time. The problem is that when we talk next we will likely talk briefly about other things, and then it will be time to go. We just won't get to them. But there are questions I won't ask, not because I intuit any embarrassing answers, but simply because I think you'd rather not answer, and you'd rather not have to say so. There are things I don't want to talk about, after all, even with you. And, honestly, the inner workings of my marriage are probably among those things.
We are all like crickets who stop singing the moment they realize someone is looking for them.