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Of Woods and Words: Things That Go Thump in the Night

New York City
New York City

I’m not sure why I expected to get a decent amount of sleep when I spent a week in New York City this past month. Turns out, there’s a reason they call New York “the city that never sleeps.” And there is probably no place in the Big Apple where that restless nickname is more applicable than the international youth hostel in upper Manhattan where I stayed with two friends.

Each night, we found our sleep punctuated by any variety of noises. At all hours of the night, people came and went from the room we shared with five other girls. One night, a group of middle school boys held what can only be presumed to have been a bowling party in the room above ours. Another night, a telephone began to ring intermittently at three in the morning. Even in the rare moments when the hostel itself was still, the noise of the city still drifted up through the window. We heard fragments of conversations from passersby in the street below, the whoosh of taxis, the bleating and blaring of sirens. 

Every morning, the three of us stumbled out of the hostel with eyes that felt as though they’d been rubbed raw with sandpaper. Every morning I resolved to pick up a pair of ear plugs. Every day the flurry of sightseeing distracted me from the sleep I hadn’t gotten and every night I returned to the hostel to realize I hadn’t bought ear plugs and that more than likely, another largely sleepless night was in store.

I couldn’t figure out how anyone got any sleep in the city.  It seemed New York City nights were filled with nothing but thumps and bumps that threatened insomnia. Then I realized that what I considered “thumps in the night” in New York could just be white noise to native New Yorkers. They probably didn’t even hear the nearly constant scream of sirens and street noise that left me tossing and turning.

Yet, some people find their own insomnia in the quieter noises of a northwoods night. The vast sense of perceived solitude up here can be uncomfortable to people used to being surrounded by more activity. The thought that there are fairly large creatures out in the woods causing thumps in the night isn’t always the most comforting notion. 

So, it seems how we respond to a thump in the night is influenced by what we’ve come to accept as an everyday occurrence.
I sleep soundly to the sound of squirrels scampering on the deck or the groan of ice in the bay. I don’t worry when the howling wind causes the house to creak and rattle. I know the grumble and scrape of the snow plow truck as it passes by in the middle of the night. Even the discomfiting whirring of a Lifeflight helicopter making its way to the hospital is familiar. 

After I got back from the New York trip, my significant other sat bolt upright in bed one night. “Oh no,” he gasped.  “There’s a bag of garbage in the back of my truck.” The night before we’d seen a black bear lumbering around within a mile of the cabin. It didn’t seem worth leaving the bag of garbage delicacies outside where they might tempt a bear to pay a visit.

“Well, you should probably go get it,” I said, not even bothering to open my eyes.

Andy made the dreaded pajama-clad dash outside to bring the trash into the cabin and, that night, bears lurked both in my subconscious and the woods outside the cabin. If I strained my ear as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the lake softly lapping at the shore outside. No sirens sounded and, that night, I slept better than I had in an entire week in Manhattan.

Airdate: April 30, 2010