How I live with the things that go bump in the night

Things that go bump in and around my house elicit a huge response from the canine residents. I appreciate the devotion of my four Brittany dogs to letting me know about anything out of the ordinary.

And by “out of the ordinary,” I mean Every. Little. Thing.

I should be a nervous wreck from the constant activation of my canine alarm system I suppose, but I’m not. It’s kind of like a fire department alarm system — one alarm is less severe than a four-alarm fire. It’s the same with my dogs.

Thistle is almost always the first to start barking. She seems to have remarkable hearing, and is sensitive to the slightest noise change. I note her barking, but I watch the responses of the other three. Her son Quincy might take up the cause in solidarity with his mother, but the other two remain silent.

Unless there’s a real reason to bark. If Bullet and Sassy join in, I start looking out windows to get to the bottom of the reason.

My alarm system (from left): Thistle, Quincy, Bullet and Sassy.

My alarm system (from left): Thistle, Quincy, Bullet and Sassy.

Saturday afternoon was one of those times. A one-bark alarm turned into a very animated four-bark alarm in just a few seconds. I looked out the windows into the driveway, as the dogs were barking at the front door, and I saw nothing out of the ordinary. This happened multiple times.

With the dogs’ persistence, I finally opened the inside front door, and saw a strip of rubber roofing that the ice had loosened from the porch roof hanging down in front of the outside glass door. Apparently whenever the wind blew it, the chunk of rubber would bang against the door and sound like someone knocking.

The dogs were ready to protect me from the vicious rubber strip, or to greet whoever was at the door.

I dug out a stepstool to give myself a little height and tossed the rubber strip back onto the roof. The other end of it still was attached to the roof as it should be. Can’t really fix it until spring. But the bumping that kept triggering the “alarm” had ceased.

The offending strip of rubber roofing that triggered the "alarm system."

The offending strip of rubber roofing that triggered the “alarm system.”

I was glad this happened during daylight hours. I’m not normally the nervous type, but I would rather deal with a four bark alarm during daylight. Somehow darkness gives such things a more sinister cast.

My late husband Jim often worked an overnight shift so I became accustomed to being alone during those hours. I’ve always been the type to face things head on, even in the dark of night. I will foolishly go outside to see what is causing the ruckus.

As a younger woman, I would do it without fear. I lived in a rented house in Bangor early in my career that was very near a seedy bar. I had witnessed knife fights and fist fights and all kinds of things from the safety of my bedroom window, and felt like I was on a first-name basis with the night dispatcher at the police department.

I remember one night being in my kitchen getting something to drink and hearing voices in my driveway. I looked out to find three or four guys draped all over my car. Instead of calling police, like an intelligent woman, I gave in to my ire and went outside, in my pajamas and robe no less, and told the guys to get off my car and move along.

I think the element of surprise worked to my advantage and they complied. But that could have gone very wrong. I know that now and often think about that night, with a definite shudder, especially in light of the other bar-related action I had witnessed.

Fearless, and a good measure of stupid.

After I was married, I still faced the night sounds without fear, but also knowing I had a backup if I needed it — nevermind that he was at work. I had a strong protection instinct, and I would defend my territory. Foolishly so. Luckily I never got into trouble. Usually night sounds were from animals coming up from the woods behind the house, but people trying to escape police also have used the shelter of those trees to reach their destinations.

Stupid risks.

Now, as a widow and an older woman, I still don’t really have a fear of facing that unknown threat, but I have developed a certain caution. Time, age, and experience have tempered my reactions a little I think. I take my cell phone poised for 911, and whatever gardening implement is handy in the garage or something from the house to defend myself if needed. And I’m careful.

Just being widowed makes a person feel more vulnerable, although in truth I am no more vulnerable than I was when Jim was alive and working away from home. It just feels different. With Jim gone, no one would find me for a couple of days if something happened to me, and who would take care of the dogs?

I don’t mean to sound macabre. I don’t obsess about such things. But I have become much more aware of life’s negative possibilities since Jim’s death. I have a new appreciation for the fragility of life, and for how things can change with the blink of an eye.

Jim and I were happily living our lives and then he began to not feel very well. The next thing we knew, he was fighting for his life. And then I was standing graveside promising the love of my life I would see him again one day, even as my trembling hand rested on his casket.

Life-altering things can happen very quickly, and it is best we be aware of the possibility. Not afraid. It’s no good to live life in fear of the unknown. I rely on my faith in God to help me deal with some of those feelings, but I also know I need to think before I act because I have family and friends who love me and things that only I can accomplish in this life.

I also am grateful for my “alarm system,” because I know that if my dogs perceived threat to my well-being, they would defend me, giving me time to seek backup.

No, we should not live in fear. No matter what our circumstances. But as widows and other people who reside alone, we should abide more carefully — and live smarter.

Bullet (standing) and Sassy checking things out.

Bullet (front) and Sassy in “her” chair on sentry duty.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.