The Wallace Family Alarming Noise Investigation Team (WFANIT) deployed last night in response to a series of loud, unearthly whooping sounds emanating from the pasture behind our house. By “deployed” I, of course mean my wife and I sat bolt upright in bed with our ears cocked toward the open window exchanging a lot of questions, the primary two being: “What the &^#)# is that?” and “Can it push its way through a screened window?”
The whoops were sporadic and they were clearly being issued from a lone whooper. The whooper was at ground level and it was moving across the pasture.
As a rule, the noises I hear around the farm do not alarm me. I’ve spent a life-time traipsing around the South Carolina great outdoors and I am fairly familiar with the sounds our indigenous critters make. Name a bird and I’ve heard it chirp, cheep, crow, quack, honk or squawk. Name a fur-bearing critter and I’ve heard it sound off, too – everything from deer snorts to bizarre goat noises. I’ve heard alligators hiss. I was once even growled at by a bear. That happened twenty-five years ago and there are still parts of my internal bodily workings that have not fully recovered from the paralysis that afflicted them that night.
It isn’t just South Carolina critters I’ve heard, either. My dad’s family lives in the remote regions of Appalachia Kentucky and as a kid I’ve spent sleepless nights listening to cougar screams echo through the holler. The first time I heard one, my older sister told me it was a ghost women wailing. Even after my dad explained it was really a big cat, I wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t a ghost wailing. Had that sound come down from the mountains and wound up outside my bedroom window, to this day people would probably be speaking in hushed tones about the night of the wailing duo.
That’s not the only times a cat call got my attention.
One night I was attending an outdoor Christmas function at a zoo when a lion sounded off. It was not a roar, but more as if someone cleared their throat into a megaphone, provided that ‘someone’ was a gigantic cat. I along with at least one hundred people instantly froze in place. Speaking ceased. Even little kids went still and silent. There was nothing voluntary about our reaction. A millennia of genetic wiring issued a directive straight from the limbic system of every brain in that crowd. It screamed “PREDATOR!”
Anyone who says time travel doesn’t exist wasn’t standing in that crowd when that lion made his presence known. We were as a herd instantly transported back to the ancient plains of Africa. We were no longer doctors, plumbers and divorce attorneys, but naked prey animals. If there were trees nearby, I believe a few of us would have climbed them.
A zookeeper finally spoke up and broke the spell. He told us that what we were hearing was a male lion “chuffing.” He went on to explain why lions chuff, but I don’t think anyone was listening. We were too busy transitioning back to the here and now.
It was quite the experience. In a way, I’ve never felt more human.
The point is, I’ve heard my share of critter noises in my day, but the whooper was a new one on me. At one point we thought it might be a bird. At another, we thought it might be a coyote or fox, perhaps.
Due to an excess of cowardice on Marianne’s part, we will probably never know what came whooping out of our woods and into the pasture. She patently refused to take a flashlight and go out there to investigate. She suggested I go out instead, but as head of the WFANIT I am, regretably, duty-bound to remain inside headquarters, namely – the house, in order to coordinate the search efforts of the junior members of the team – namely her. I insisted she go.
Turns out, she is not only insubordinate, but she has a mouth on her that would make a whooper blush.