Some Sounds Aren’t Heard Because They Are Not There

Sam (is a dog) and I live on the outskirts of nowhere, with no year-round neighbors within shouting distance, so any bumps in the night we hear are, by their very nature, of interest.  I mean, in the city we explained these sounds as the nighttime wanderings of the insomniac, the turning off and on of a piece of equipment in a neighbor’s garage or the murderer’s mutters as he searches for prey. We grow used to these sounds, and they don’t wake us.  At most, we double check our locks and return to bed, offering up a silent prayer the murder moves on to another neighborhood.  Here in the Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods, though, strange sounds in the night need to be identified, if not always explored.

Sam (is a dog) and I are well-suited on most matters, but not this.  While we both like long walks in the woods, rare beefsteak and peeing in the bushes, our nocturnal ears are set to different levels.  For instance, I can hear a bear outside, determining whether it’s worth breaking into our storage tent (it isn’t, for any ursine readers).  Once that sound has awakened me fully, I get dressed, turn on the baton-sized combination flashlight/nightstick next to the bed, open our door, and scatter light in crazy patterns.  Whether I hear the bear lumbering away or not, the sound stops and I go back to sleep.

Sam (is a dog), who is a dog, has more sensitive ears than I, and will at least once a night awaken me with either a little whimpering or a bushel of barking.  Since Sam (is a dog) can’t defend his reputation here, never having learned to type or talk, I don’t want to impugn him too roughly.  Still, I think he imagines things.  Specifically, I think he imagines sounds that are not there.  Once he awakens me to these phantom sounds, though, I still need to go through the drill of getting out of bed, putting on pants, boots and coat, grabbing the flashlight and going outside.  There has yet to be anything there.  Sam is a watch dog who is watches for and hears the nonexistent.

If this were the problem, I wouldn’t discuss it outside our relationship, except with a trained therapist.  No, the real problem is that Sam, to be honest, (is a coward) who’s never once left the safety of the Tiny White Box to explore the sounds he alone can hear.  He seems afraid of the dark, or at least unwilling to explore any of the dangers he imagines he hears.  Nor will he accept my groggy, “Sam, please be quiet.  There’s nothing there.”  Getting up and getting to it is the only way I can quiet him.  Unfortunately, because Sam has not been part of the inspection process, he’s often not fully satisfied the danger has passed, and continues to issue stray yips and yaps at the sounds that weren’t there to begin with.

Given the tiny size of a tiny house, and the volume of even a young boxer’s bark, sleep is out of the question for me.  As if to taunt me, Sam curls up on his side of the bed, returning to dreams punctuated by intermittent warnings.  Warnings of nothing.  These particular barks seem timed to issue just as the tide of relaxation has started to rise for me, right before I am fully covered.  With a whip snap, I am pulled back from sleep. Fully awake at, say, 2:30 in the morning, I often stare at the ceiling, listening fruitlessly for the sounds Sam doesn’t really hear, and wondering if Amazon sells canine ear plugs.


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