For retired biology teacher Raymond Billy, it’s not so much what goes “bump in the night” as it is what chatters or makes no noise that worries him.
The Ashtabula resident has spent many nights in a sleeping bag on The Long Trail of the Appalachian Trail, as well on other wilderness trails. A light sleeper, Billy often finds himself tuning into the sounds of his environment, particularly when they get louder and louder … closer and closer.
“I never was a very good sleeper,” Billy says. “I started hearing this clacking, like false teeth. And it kept getting closer. And I thought ‘This damn thing is coming into our lean-to.”
“The thing” turned out to be a porcupine that had sniffed out the presence of food on dirty dishes stashed in a corner of the lean-to. Billy says all of the food, including toothpaste, had been safely secured in an elevated bear bag. But other backpackers sharing the site had thoughtlessly left their dirty dishes as bait for wildlife, and Billy and his hiking friends were in the animal’s path.
“I got up and put those dirty dishes right next to their tent and said ‘Here’s your dirty dishes,'” Billy recalls. And 15 to 20 minutes later, the porcupines returned to clean up the dishes and gnaw at a salty section of the tent.
Billy, who taught life sciences and led a backpacking club for high-school students, will share his stories from the trail during a free Ashtabula Metroparks program on Oct. 7. The focus will be on nocturnal animals along The Western Reserve Greenway Trail and other Metrooparks properties.
The classroom portion of the program will be in the Austinburg Town Hall on Route 307, east of Route 45 and just west of the Greenway Trail. The session gets under way at 6 p.m., during which time Billy will share more stories from the trail and samples of nocturnal animal sounds will be played to familiarize participants.
The program will close with a Billy leading a walk down the twilight trail for a hushed listening experience. He’ll share his finely tuned sense of nocturnal hearing with others during the trail walk. It’s impossible to predict what they’ll hear or who will stir.
“We might hear some owl sounds, but probably not any songbirds at that time of year,” he says. “Possibly some barn owls.”
Billy’s program is free, but registration is required. Call the Metroparks office at 576-0717 to leave a reservation message. Include your name, phone number, email address and how many participants plan to attend.