I woke up early this morning, maybe because I was hearing a weird noise—like a far-distant telephone dial, the old-fashioned rotary kind—but probably just because I went to bed really early last night. It was 5AM or so and I spent the next half hour trying to track down the noise: moving around the van, opening windows to see if it was louder outside, turning off circuits from the circuit breaker, running the water, going outside and turning the water off… every new attempt punctuated by five minutes or so of trying to go back to sleep.
Finally I gave up and got up. The first thing I do every morning is walk Zelda but it was still full dark outside, so instead I made myself coffee and breakfast (honey Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola, yum.) Zelda is generally not patient if I try to do much before her walk—she knows how the morning is supposed to go—but it was early enough and dark enough that she opened her eyes and watched me but didn’t bother to start moving until I started getting dressed.
When we started walking, it was a little after six. Sunrise was at six-forty, so it was still dark, but getting lighter. I walked a short way down the road, then turned back and got my flashlight, that’s how dark it was. We wandered along the road, down a short path to the deserted nature center—closed today, alas, or I would be headed back there—through the parking lot, down another road, and right to the edge of a boardwalk path into the park.
And there I stopped.
I’m in Tickfaw State Park in Lousiana. I got here yesterday afternoon, with time to do a bunch of housebound stuff (vanbound?), but not enough time to explore the park in daylight. So there I was, approximately 6:20 AM, about to head into the park in semi-darkness. Except…
It was a grey and foggy morning. Mist was everywhere and it was doing that thing where even though it’s not raining, the mist condenses on the tree leaves and then drips, so it sounded like there were tiny random footsteps happening all around me. They weren’t footsteps, of course, they were just drops of water hitting the ground. I’m a rational person, I know that’s what that sound was. Not footsteps, just water drops.
But there were birds, too, loads of them, making loads of noise.
And to the right of the boardwalk, in the woods, there was a rustling. And then a sound like a coughing bark. Not a bark, not a cough, but something in between. It’s not a sound that a squirrel makes, not one of their chitters or squeaks. It’s a bigger sound than that. But it’s not a rumble or a growl, either.
I told myself that it was perfectly safe. I didn’t know what was making that sound, but I was going to get on the boardwalk, not walk into the woods.
Except these weren’t exactly woods. I’m in a cypress swamp. The trees are probably beautiful in summer, but it’s the middle of winter, so right now they’re trunks of mostly bare gray branches, scattered dead leaves hanging from them. Occasional scrub pines provide a bit of color, but the ground is dark and muddy, covered with leaves or swampy water. For whatever reason, it reminds me of the landscape from Stranger Things.
I heard the sound again. Does Louisiana have bears? Probably. No reason why they wouldn’t have bears, plus the trash receptacles are bear-proof and why would you have bear-proof trash cans if you didn’t have bears? But, middle of winter, bears ought to be asleep. Hibernating, right? And there’s no way that noise was big enough to be a bear.
Unless it was a small bear.
Zelda was tugging at the leash. She was quite eager to go walk along that boardwalk and sniff interesting smells.
I was not so sure.
And then, from the left side, I heard a howl. A real, true, actual howl. Like a wolf howling at the moon howl. Like a werewolf howl.
I was sure it was a coyote, equally sure it was far away. And I was totally positive that the little footstep sounds I heard all around me were just water drips from the trees created by the mist, and whatever the thing coughing at me from the trees to the right was (probably a raccoon, right?), it was definitely not a monster from a shadow realm going to eat us both alive.
But I was not getting on that boardwalk, just not.
So Zelda and I walked back along the road and deeper into the park. I saw an owl fly across the road, and then fly from tree to tree until it disappeared into the swamp. I saw two snowy white egrets lift into the air, so beautiful and so ungainly. An entire flock of some much smaller bird flew so close overhead that I literally heard their wings beating.
The noise here is just incredible. Alexa does a forest sounds meditation that I’ve always thought was unrealistic because it’s such steady noise, but this is the forest that meditation belongs to, because the birds and the bugs are a constant background harmony, even now, sitting in Serenity on the computer.
And the park basically belongs right now to me and the birds. The campground has spots for thirty RVs; I believe there might be two other campers here. It is peaceful, serene, beautiful… and also isolated and honestly, seriously spooky.
In a mostly fun way.