A barred owl keeps an eye on the small swamp at Heymann Park Tuesday, September 18, 2018, in Lafayette, La.

While I feed the goldfish in our patio pond these autumn mornings, our terrier weaves through the shrubbery, sniffing for clues of other critters that have been there before him. I wish that he could tell me what he’s discovered, since I wonder myself about the visitors we’ve had.

The nights grow quieter each fall, and it’s easier to hear things outside, though seldom simple to know what I’m hearing. Air conditioners throughout the neighborhood don’t run as much, and the frogs and crickets of summer, which once generated a giant wall of sound, have gone off to sleep in the secret places where they’ll stay until spring.

In their absence, the yard at night can seem as silent as the surface of the moon. Occasional stirrings beyond my bedroom window stand out all the more, the way even a whisper carries across the hush of a library.

Danny Heitman's At Random: Autumn a time to get outdoors

Some nights, while turning in bed, I hear crablike skitters across the patio bricks, which is probably the wind pushing a few brown leaves across the paving. But every now and then, the night brings news of something else. A faint, wild cry rises from the bushes — possibly two cats mating or fighting, or doing a bit of both.

Maybe some poor thing is caught in the talons of an owl, sounding its last protest before becoming a meal. I could rise from bed and try to get a clearer idea of the drama unfolding a few feet away. But I prefer to stay beneath the blankets, insulated — or so I think — from the pageant of life and death outdoors.

Staying in bed also allows me the pleasant illusion that I’m dreaming it all, that there’s nothing really sinister afoot in my suburban yard. Little traces of evidence lingering in the daylight occasionally tell a different story.

The other day, someone left the little plastic jar of fish food outside. When I found it the next morning, tiny teeth marks dented the lid, and there was a small hole where the enterprising diner had gnawed through. Half of the shrimp flakes inside were gone. The mischief looked like something a squirrel would do, though they don’t prowl after dark.

I count the goldfish each morning to make sure they’ve all survived the night. I suspect they’ve had some close calls, since I sometimes find bits of pond plants on the other side of the patio — shaken off, I suppose, by some potential predator who’s taken a dip.

While fetching the newspaper the other morning, I noticed a few Confederate gray feathers near the flower bed, one big enough to make a quill pen.

The feather looked like it belonged to a mourning dove, though I wasn’t sure what had separated the bird from its pile of plumage. The night holds secrets as another Halloween arrives, mysteries that will probably endure long after October has passed.


Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.