Chapter Forty-Four: Night time

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

Saturday 22 September 2001 - We continued to pack and organize, but most of the day was taken up with goodbyes. Joe and Caesar walked in while we were having breakfast, and visited for an hour or so. Then, we drove up to Faulkenhams and visited with Reggie, Dennis and Becky. Joe Stepanski was leaving just as we arrived.

Joe’s reminiscences: He and a partner found Calista’s Renault the year it was broken into. They came in and told her, then Joe drove her down the Hill for help. Many years ago, Kim (Sally's brother) walked down the Hill on his way to Crystal, stopped at the Gun Club and got talking to one of the guys about motorcycles. It was after dark when he finally went on to Vinyard's. Apparently it was well after 2200 when he came back up the Hill. The gun clubbers were very impressed that he would walk the Hill in the dark.

Before the Logging Road was constructed, in those years before we could drive close to Camp, we often walked down the Dummer Hill Road to "civilization," sometimes at night. One time I remember in particular: Sally and I had walked to Crystal, had dinner and visited with the Vinyards until quite late. When it came time to leave, Ken and some others of the clan had walked us back to the foot of the Dummer Hill Road, playing musical instruments and singing along the way. This was before Bucky and Sarah had built their home at the start of the road, and there was no one staying at the Gun Club then, so it was a long, dark, lonely walk up and over the Hill and back to Camp. It was wonderful!

Over the years, we had a number of North Country folks tell us that they wouldn't, under any circumstances, walk on the Hill after dark. Their hesitation probably couldn't be defined, but was real, nevertheless. For us, however, the Hill at night seemed a lot safer than the streets of the cities where we had been raised. In most cases, night time on Dummer Hill was enjoyed and remembered with real enthusiasm.

Thursday 28 July 1994 - When we were outside about 2200 last night, it was crystal clear with a jillion stars.

Monday 26 May 1997 - As it cleared up late in the evening, the air was so dry and the sky so clear that the stars were phenomenal. It wasn’t just that they were bright and that there were a lot of them; many of them actually seemed LARGE in the crystal-clear sky.

Wednesday 12 August 1998 - We went out about 2115-2130 and watched the Perseid meteor shower - saw six, a couple of nice long-tailed ones.

Monday 12 August 2002 - We sat outside for a few minutes about 2300, watching for Perseid meteors. The real peak was supposed to be after 0200, but we saw 5 or 6 in a short time.

Tuesday 19 June 2001 - The fireflies are wonderful now - hundreds at lawn level, most of them doing their really fast blinking. They were still active at 0300, when I was up for awhile.

Saturday 18 June 1994 - It turned out to be quite a night. At about 2100 a wind came whipping down the field like a freight train. It only lasted a few minutes, but forced us to close the north-facing windows for awhile. From about 2200 to almost 0300 (when I went to sleep), the lightning flashes were almost constant. Most were far off and we didn’t see the actual lightning bolts or hear more than dull background thunder, but it was still impressive. Starting about 0210 and going until 0225, our skies were constant lightning/thunder, with two strikes obviously somewhere close on the Hill. The main storm seemed to be out over the Androscoggin, but the flashes were everywhere. I went outside about 0300 and our skies were starry directly overhead, but the flashing was still going on all around us.

The firefly show at 0300 was also amazing. With the flashes in the sky all around, the firefly flashes seem to burst like little bombs. They would be dully glowing, then suddenly explode in a really bright flash. They were all over in the trees.

Saturday 2 July 1994 - Thunderstorms started about 1830: a little wind, a little rain, a few flashes, and lots of distant rumbles. Still going on at 2130, when the actual storm finally got to us with some pretty close, very loud cracks. Still going at 2200, either moving back and forth north, west, and southwest, or lines of storms coming through. Flashes were lighting up the entire field even when the strikes were not very close; often only a few seconds between flashes. Exciting, because whenever it got dark between flashes, you could see dozens of fireflies. A night to remember! I finally gave up on the storm about 2230, and went to sleep. It was still flashing and rumbling to the north, but seemed to have finally spent itself after 4 hours.

Well, the thunderstorms weren't my favorite part of the night time scene, but those distant ones where we mostly got the light show, but not the nearby crashing and booming, were pretty great.

* * *

If the night sights were memorable, the night sounds added a lot to the experience. Here are a few samples of our various callers. I could write a page about each one of them, but this is a little taste, anyway.

Sunday 4 June 2000 - We had a whip-poor-will calling for at least an hour after 0100. I had heard it briefly two nights ago. These are only the second and third records for the Hill. Although the NH breeding bird atlas makes it sound like they were never common north of the White Mountains, local opinion seems to be that they have declined significantly in the North Country recently. Paul Daugherty did a news column on them last year, and they’ve been mentioned on “Forum.” I think Becky has mentioned a decline, too.

Thursday 22 June 2000 - We had a whip-poor-will again early this morning, but this time it was quite close - probably right down on our “lawn.”

Tuesday 9 June 1998 - Tonight and last night the spring peepers have been almost deafening, right outside our door.

Saturday 24 June 2000 - The frogs were very loud just at dark - not peepers. I assume they were wood frogs, but need to listen to the “Night Sounds” tape to be sure. [Later note: they are gray tree-frogs]. The whip-poor-will was calling at the same time - sounded like it was right on the lawn up toward the spring.

Tuesday 13 August 2002 - We were watching TV late, when Sally happened to look up at the window beside her chair. A single lightning bug (one of the very few we’ve seen in the past couple weeks) was flashing, showing up a very pale frog stuck to the window with its suction cup feet. I went outside to see its back, and confirmed that it was a gray tree frog. It was the first I’ve ever seen, although we identify them by sound almost every year. It stayed on the window for 15 minutes or more. Who knows what attracted it to our particular “tree.”

Sunday 25 June 2000 - Wonderful firefly night, hundreds blinking away at field level. Coupled with this was the whip-poor-will calling close to the house, and two barred owls “klacking” down in the woods, and it was a warm, humid but very satisfactory early night.

Saturday 26 May 2001 - Interesting early morning: Sally woke me about 0400 to hear a whip-poor-will calling very close to the house - first we’ve heard this year. Actually, I had been hearing it in my dreams. I was dreaming I was in a genealogy library when it called. I looked out a window and saw some pens or cages in the next yard, where I assumed it was. Then, I woke up.

Friday 7 July 2000 - Just at dusk, coyotes put up a wonderful howl just below the outhouse [probably on or near the old road by the dump]. It sounded like there could have been five or six. Usually they start and stop in 30 seconds or so, but these went on at full lung for a good minute.

Tuesday 30 June 1998 - We had one interesting happening last evening. Around 2000 there was a tremendous amount of growling, whining, etc., in the woods just below camp. It went on for maybe ten minutes. At first, we thought it was porcupines, but playing my “night sounds” tape definitely showed that it was raccoons having some sort of altercation. Quite a noise.

Wednesday 2 July 1997 - Things got interesting just at dusk. I heard either snorts or wheezes in the woods up near the spring. I was pretty sure it was a moose, but sometimes it sounded like a bear. We heard it on and off for a half-hour or so, but it never came into view and remains “a large animal mystery.” While we were still hearing it, Sally picked out two deer (does) down in “the Glades”. We watched them for 15 minutes or so, as they grazed and apparently also browsed on the highbush cranberry.

Wonderful firefly night - lots of them, and lots of flying around and rapid blinking. I went outside about midnight when it was pitch-black except for the myriad blinking lights. Wonderful.

* * *

My favorites among the night noise-makers were the barred owls - the "eight hooters," from their usual call: Hoo-Hoo-HooHoo Hoo-Hoo-HooHooAww. They were not as common near the cabin after the Ice Storm took out a lot of our nearby forest, but we could hear them farther down in the Swamp almost every night. Often, we could hear them calling well before nightfall, especially on darker, cloudy days. They responded well to taped recordings of their calls, and even to my own vocal attempts at the "8-hoot," which added to the fun.

Saturday 18 June 1994 - About the time I fell asleep the barred owls got going. There was one below the house that sounded like an adult, and 2 (maybe 3) up above the field who didn't seem to have their hooting mastered yet - lots of off-tune hoots.

Saturday 27 August 1994 - Two barred owls put on the longest and best duet we have had this year. One was very high-pitched, and pretty much a full "8-hooter." The other was very low-voiced, and gave a progression of deep, low hoots. They alternated for 5 minutes or more.

Saturday 5 June 1999 - I was playing tape-recorded bird calls about 2000, trying to figure out what thrush I heard in the Swamp earlier in the day ( still couldn’t tell). I played the barred owl tape, and got one to come and look us over. After he flew back down into the Swamp, he and at least one other (maybe more) hooted and yelped for the next half-hour or so. While he was up in an open treetop near us, several robins gave him a good harassing.

Monday 26 September 1994 - 1700-1740, I birded down the field and into the woods, and ended up having a great time. The blue jays were being really raucous, so I started "8-hooting." I ended up attracting 6-8 jays, all calling noisily. They in turn attracted chickadees and nuthatches, who got going great guns. Finally, the owls themselves got going (probably 3 different ones), and the jays then got after them. I kept it all going for 15 minutes or so. Sally could hear it clear back at camp, even though I was well into the woods near the gentian area!

* * *

Some night sounds reminded us that, although we were far from any other people, and in a very dark forest, "civilization" was not far away. For example, we occasionally heard sirens from emergency vehicles traveling on the River Road, over a mile and a half away and 600 feet lower than our Camp. More frequently, we heard the freight train in West Milan. Although it was farther away from us than the River Road, another 100 feet or so lower in elevation, and behind the bulk of Dummer Hill, Its engine and whistle came through loud and clear. Interestingly, we didn't hear it as frequently or as clearly after the Ice Storm and all the subsequent forest cutting. Apparently, our road corridor through the dense woods acted as a tunnel to bring the train sounds directly to us. Sometimes, the engine noises were so clear that one could easily have believed that the train was actually coming right in our road.

There was one night sound of "civilization" that we never wanted to hear:

Thursday 16 September 1993 - I said we didn't have any visitors yesterday, but we did! At 2300, two people on 4-wheelers (same people who had run around the field the through the garden earlier?) roared in, saw the mowed field and then the truck, and roared out, again. At least one of them had on orange clothing. It doesn't seem like they could have been up to anything legal at that time of night.

Friday 13 June 1997 - About 2130 a car drove into Camp [Geo Tracker, NH CJM 268]. It was very dark, already. The man introduced himself as “Turkey”, said he worked night shift at the White Mountain mill. He claimed to know the Cordwells and Emerys, but didn’t know the Gun Club people. He said he liked to check the isolated camps to protect them from vandals, but then said he’d never been in our road before, although he hunts the Hill. A little odd. He seemed respectable enough, but the visit was disconcerting.

Friday 26 September 1997 - Last night, at 2230, the man who calls himself “Turkey” drove in. Again, he claimed to be “checking the cabins” to make sure they are okay. He is a disconcerting-type individual, and having him appear in the dark of night is certainly off-putting. I don’t trust him, but I don’t have a feel for whether he is just weird or a potential vandal.

Saturday 26 July 2003 - Just before midnight, somebody in a pickup truck drove into the yard. I was just barely asleep, and the headlights woke me the rest of the way. I shined the powerful lantern on them [which must have pretty much blinded them], and they yelled “sorry” as they turned around and drove away. That hasn’t happened in a number of years; very unnerving, when it does.

We never feared for our personal safety when we had "midnight visitors," but it always served as a reminder of how alone, and how potentially vulnerable, we were. People wandering in the woods at that time of night were probably illegally hunting or just joy riding; they certainly had no legitimate reason for being on our obscure woods road, then. It was the sort of intrusion that was very unlikely before the building of the Logging Road in 1974. The boundaries between our wilderness retreat and Civilization were breaking down. Even so, night time on the Hill was still a good time.

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