Night Sounds

We have arrived at our rental home in the Finger Lakes in upper New York State. It was many hours in a cramped airplane, and almost as many hours in a small rental car, driving up from JFK airport. We saved a $1,000 dollars from another flight from NY to Syracuse, but it was another four hour ride up the Hudson River.

My brother and I were soon out of the busy city, and the outskirts faded away. We made one short stop at the 24 hour tire store, weirdly placed exactly where we needed to check our tire pressure. Everything was fine, and we drove on the ribbon that twisted through the valleys, following the upper Delaware River. Our niece was getting married in upper New York State, after years of living in California. We were happy for her.

The trees here were dense, and the foliage came down close to the ground, creating a green wall along side the roadway. It was so different from the forests of the High Sierra. The trails here would be ancient, blazed over hundreds of years by the native Algonquin peoples. It was vaguely intimidating.

Arriving at the Finger Lakes region for the “distance wedding” was also a much needed vacation, and the end result of a full month of research. We wanted enough bedrooms for the multiple families that would join us. We wanted it near to a town, but not too near. We did have some friends that were local, so being near to them would be nice. And a pool, we needed to have a pool. The lake was near, but it was cold, so a pool in the sweltering summer was a must.

We did find a house that was perfect, it was on a bluff that gave us a great view of the lake on one side, and we butted up against that Great Green Wall of a forest on the other side. Looking West was the water, the pool, and the lake. Looking East was darkness. I noticed that the house was situated so that all the rooms were facing the water. Great views of the lake. The forest was to our back, it was undiscovered, almost ignored, or purposely avoided.

Two weeks to undo old habits, and two weeks to acquire new ones. And the first thing to address was the sleeping arrangements.

We have been traveling together for years, and during that time we have slept in cars, tents, cabins, boats… we have always adjusted. We were only two years apart, so we were each other’s best friend. Sharing the same room on our travels is mostly managed around the light sleeping habits of my younger brother. It is very hard for him to get to sleep, and very easy for him to wake up, then remain awake for hours. So the bedroom had to became a very dark place, shutters and curtains. In most hotels and motels this was no problem. Here it was an issue because the large bay windows only had light silk curtains. The lights on the lake were easy to see, but fortunately it was a new moon. For me it was usually hard to tell if my eyes were open or shut. This place wasn’t that bad.

As I’ve got older I’ve developed a need to get up several times a night. It became a long and tedious journey from the bed to the bathroom. Shuffling along the floor, fearful of taking a step because I couldn’t see what I was about to step on. The only light coming from the faint glow of my smart watch. The phone light was far too bright and might wake him.

Then of course, there was my snoring in combination of apnea. Strange combination of a sawmill, then a spastic jerking to regain breathing. Still, we managed through elbow pokes and thrown shoes, to be in the same room. The big change was my heart attack. Adjusting for health concerns can be massive. But between two aging brothers we made it work.

Sleeping in another room, sleeping at an angle, because laying flat was impossible. Sleeping on my side was no longer possible, because having your sternum sawed open made it painful. So many adjustments! Still, we worked it out. Even on our yearly backpacking trip, spending a week in a small tent, wasn’t bad. We found things worked out.

This currently was going to be a little longer than a weekend, but I had gathered enough pillows to make a proper wedge to cut down my snoring, and to help me to breathe. It was a large room with two double beds, but there was plenty of walking room. The bedroom didn’t have heavy curtains, but it was a new moon, so the night was pretty dark, and I still had my smart watch for a little light. Things worked out.

Somehow during the last year, the snoring became an issue. Not mine, because living alone made it a non issue. Sharing sleeping quarters was different. My brother in early years had barely made a sound all night. I often had to check the rise and fall of his shoulders to know that he was still breathing. There was some unexplained coughing recently, so maybe allergies have become an issue for him. Now he has started to snore.

His snoring wasn’t close to my epic sawmill, but it was a constant low rattle. It was one of those sounds that penetrates any attempt to ignore it. It was not a choice to use the poking in the ribs, he needed his rest. I found that my earplugs plugged in to a restful playlist was the perfect answer. I did have to edit my playlist considerably because often my dreams act out what I’m hearing, but it eventually worked out.

The one thing that was different is that I was taken out of the environment. With earplugs in, I couldn’t hear the creaks of the house, or the wind in the trees. I felt vulnerable, not that it was a big deal. It was just different. It was certainly safe.

Okay… new house, new neighborhood. I knew nothing about the history, the wildlife, or patterns of nature. Maybe this wasn’t the safest time to isolate myself in a bubble of music.

I decided to unplug one earbud, the one farthest from the snoring, just as a test. I was the eldest and I always took the lead in issues of safety. I tried to listen to the base sounds, the normal creaks and wind through the trees. It was a little different from expected, a newer house, different species of trees created different sounds, but I soon had a good solid baseline.

Then something different occurred. It was like a switch was turned off, except it wasn’t light, it was sound. All I could hear was the soft steady snoring on the other side of the room. Outside it was dead silence. Then there was a rustling at a distance, and it was coming towards the house. Almost like a car coming from a distance. Soon the sound was in the trees in the back of the house, then it passed over, heading down to the lake. I could actually hear it leaving.

In its wake was the dead silence outside, as before, but now I could tell that my brother’s snoring was slightly different. I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was at first, but now, I wouldn’t call it soft. There was a harsh emphasis, so much so that I felt the need to plug in the earbud in order to drown it out. But now I was back in the “bubble”.

In the quiet parts of the music I could still hear the snoring, and it still continued to change slightly, more fierce, with more volume. Then suddenly he choked, or maybe he just cleared hi throat. There was a moment when I thought he was shaking his head, then it was back to that hard snore, but now almost a growl.

I was propped up on my wedge of pillows, and I needed to make an adjustment, so I leaned forward a little and I used my left hand to pull the pillow to a better spot. The movement activated the smart watch and the dial illuminated a small area in the direction of the snoring for a portion of a second.

Being lit from below changes the normal shadows, but there was more than different shadows. It was a different face. The snoring was definitely now a full growl, the lips were pulled back into a wide slit, with flecks of drool in each corner, the brow was knitted above eyes that were unnaturally round, with pupils surrounded by white. My brother had crossed the room and was now standing hunched over me. Before the light faded I could sense that both of his hands were clawing the open air in time with his growls.

This was seen almost like in the flash of lightning, the light of the watch went out , and all was darkness. I was frozen in place, barely breathing, totally alert to any movement…

Then and old word came coursing up from my memory, windigo… windigo!

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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