Night sounds and scents

A couple of nights ago, as I was gently drifting off to sleep, my olfactory senses were assaulted by the never-to-be-forgotten odor of skunk — ticked-off skunk, to be exact, right under my open window downwind — freshly manufactured, a silent-but-deadly, and if I’m completely honest, not all that unpleasant a fragrance, in a musky sort of heady-perfumed way!

Incorporating a number of flowers that scent the evening air is an important factor to include in the overall appeal of the garden; flowering tobacco (nicotiana) and Dame’s rockets are two of my favorites. Grow some of the old-fashioned roses that have intoxicating perfumes that the newer hybrids have not, and early evenings spent wandering in the garden will be made more memorable when more of the senses are engaged.

Sounds of rustling leaves, waving grasses, bats twittering and owls hooting are all friendly and comforting, but can barely compete against the constant noise of cars and trucks and the disturbance of sirens and “jake” brakes. This is what I miss most about not living in the forest any longer — the never silent, but enveloping quietness of things going about their business in a natural way, coyotes calling, deer snorting, foxes yipping, raccoons chattering and twigs snapping under pressure from unknown feet.

Weather events bring their own sounds to the evening hours — breezes and gales, rain, thunder, and the peculiar deadening softness of snow. I remember one winter when the temperatures were so low the trees were creaking and popping and it hurt to draw a deep breath. I think the trees felt the same way!

In the summer garden, the sound of water falling and splashing is enticing and inviting to a number of small creatures, beneficial insects included. I recently read of a solar-powered water fountain that I shall be adding to the sights and sounds of my garden next year, but meanwhile it’s time to put away the tools and hunker down for the winter.

It’s time to give the nights back to the creatures that live in them and wait for the return of the spring birds and their pre-dawn songs, and begin the cycle of life again.


Tina Clinefelter is a Penn State Master Gardener emerita and has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the Points of Light Foundation. She can be reached at