Sounds in the night

My father grew up in Eastern North Dakota, outside of the town of Minnewaukan. Minnewaukan is the Dakota name for Spirit Lake, called Devil’s Lake by European Settlers. The Lake sits on very flat country and expands and recedes in wet years and dry. The river that feeds the lake is nearly level, falling as little as one inch per mile in some sections. There is no rushing water in the area.

From Minnewaukan, he moved with his family to Billings, Montana, where his father operated a service station that was quite a distance from the Yellowstone River. He attended Billings Polytechnic College, which is tucked under the rimrocks away from the river. From there he moved to Victorville, California, in the middle of the desert. After being discharged from the service, he moved to Oklahoma to attend A & P school. From there it was a search for a place to start a flying service. When they chose Big Timber, Montana, they selected a house that was a couple of miles from the river. Only later, when he well-established did they get their cabin by the river.

I recount his journey to make the point that he didn’t grow up with the sound of running water.

When I was a teenager, he took me into the Crazy Mountains. We drove up to Half Moon Campground and camped overnight. We hiked away from the campground with just a few things to make our meals and our sleeping bags. We slept under the stars without a tent. He rolled out his sleeping bag right next to the falls and I next to him. In the morning he declared that it was one of the best night’s sleep of his life. “There is nothing like the sound of rushing water to make you sleep!”

It isn’t like he grew up listing to rushing water to lull him to sleep.

Looking back, I wonder if he had a bit of tinnitus. He had spent a lot of time around some very noisy engines, flying airplanes for all of his adult life. Perhaps the noise of the waterfall was just the right frequency to allow him to sleep without the perception of ringing in his ears.

I don’t have tinnitus. I can appreciate silence, and enjoy it when we have a very quiet place to sleep. I prefer to be away from crowds and the noise of cities. Our place out here isn’t absolutely quiet. We have a fairly major street in our back yard, but our neighborhood quiets down pretty well in the night. We can hear the coyotes sing and wake to birdsong.

Our son and daughter in law have employed various devices to make white noise as a background for sleeping. they feel that it was very helpful for their children when they were babies. Before it is born, a baby’s world isn’t silent. There are all kinds of body noises in there. In fact babies sleep when their mothers are active and tend to wake when things get quiet as the mother sleeps. When they get well developed, they’ll start kicking and moving when the mother is trying to sleep. The natural process helps to prepare the mother for all of the sleepless nights after the baby is born.

It makes sense that a little noise of some kind is OK in a sleeping area. It is interesting how much a person can adjust. When we lived in Boise there was an irrigation canal that ran along the south edge of our property. We didn’t have rights to take water from the canal, but there was a small diversion at the southwest corner of our property that took some of the water to a smaller canal that served places to the south that had irrigation rights. The diversion made a rushing water sound that you could hear from our bedroom on quiet nights. But the water wasn’t the only sound of the city. Right behind the irrigation canal was a set of railroad tracks. The tracks were not used by the freight trains that went through town, only the Amtrak which had two trains per day - one eastbound and the other westbound. Those trains roared by our place late at night and early in the morning with the whistles blowing. I thought it would be a challenge to learn to sleep through the trains, but it was quite easy and I soon could sleep right through them every night unless they were late. If the train was not on time, it would wake me. If it came through at the right time, I could sleep right through the commotion.

These days, we don’t have much noise at night. We’re a long way from any rushing water, though I love to sleep next to a stream when presented with the opportunity. I grew up with the river right next to my window during summers. In the summer, when we sleep with the widows open, I can hear the neighbors if they come or go late at night. I can hear the traffic on the road. But I can also hear the coyotes and other night sounds of the hills. In the summer we sometimes have big thunderstorms with rain and hail and lots of wind. The thunder and lightning provide a light show with sound effects. Other nights we get smaller and more gentle storms with just a bit of wind in the pine trees. The wind through the pine trees is as soothing a sound as water rushing over rocks. It can lull me right to sleep in a few minutes.

I appreciate quiet, but my world is rarely silent. When I was leading worship I would refer to moments of prayer as “quiet” prayer, not “silent” prayer. I always listened to the congregation during those times. I could hear a child fidget or a cough or someone just clearing their throat. I could sense the mood of the congregation. I judged the length of the quiet time by the sounds of the congregation. I don’t need my world to be silent, a little sound is a wonderful thing.

So I listen for the wind in the pine trees. Even when it is just a slight breeze, the calm sound surrounds me as I sleep.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!