While the beauty of the Ocala National Forest is indescribable, the sounds of the forest were memorable as well. On warm summer nights chirping crickets and croaking bullfrogs filled the air with a sound as big as a big bass drum. Throw in the bellow of a bull alligator and a chorus of owls and it made an unforgettable concert indeed.
On summer afternoons the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance was a prelude to the frantic sounds of preparation: Run to gather in the clothes drying on the clothesline, prop the wicker rocking chairs on the porch so the cushions wouldn’t get wet, roll up the car windows, and run through the house closing windows. Then stand on the porch watching the rain come across the lake. The glassy surface of the water turned wavy as the wall of rain came closer. Someone inevitably quoted Moby Dick with a shout of, “Thar she blows.” Finally a deafening crescendo as the raindrops hit the tin roof of our little wooden house.
Those forest sounds were timeless but other forest sounds were sounds of the times. I remember days when we watched the fuzzy images on our black and white television as NBC News broadcast a countdown of a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Right after liftoff we would rush outside to scan the skies for a peek at the rocket hurtling toward outer space.
On some days the sonic booms were much closer. The forest was home to a military practice bombing range. The jets rattled the windows and we felt the bombs explode. Pilots often flew frighteningly low over Church Lake and at times neighbors called commanders to complain about how close the pilots flew. The sounds of the planes and the bombs brought to mind the sounds of the nightly news where we heard about the war in Vietnam. On Wednesday nights during the church’s weekly prayer meeting, I heard prayers for the soldiers. I heard men, women, and teenagers pray for soldiers by name—their sons, nephews, boyfriends, classmates. Their prayers were simple and personal and real. Just on the other side of the church from our little wooden house was the church cemetery. I remember being at home and hearing the jolting sounds of the 21-gun salutes during funerals for soldiers.
On other days the sounds of the forest were quieter. Hymns chiming from the church steeple. The low hum of Mother’s New Home sewing machine and her sweet soprano singing while she worked. Ski boats on the lake. Swimmers laughing and splashing. Burgers sizzling on the grill. And the sound of fallen oak leaves skittering across the yard in the wind. The sounds of peace. And freedom.