Chapter 21: Cricket Chorus

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Hyrum, you’re my little bug.

Under low, heavy clouds and a light, misty rain, the lighthouse beam shines in a shaft for miles as it slowly sweeps the sky.

European Starlings gather by the thousand in the neighborhood cottonwoods, with grease-black feathers and cheddar cheese beaks.  Their wild chatter resembles radio static blaring in a range of high pitches.  The starlings don’t enjoy seeds so don’t compete with the finches and sparrows that crowd the feeders.  Instead, they flock to the mulberry tree above the porch, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the unguarded cat food bowl.  Within minutes they fly away, leaving a near-empty bowl and a redwood porch painted with splotches of white-and-brown guano like a questionable modern art masterpiece.  What the starlings leave in the bowl the skunks will eat before morning.  Considered by many a ubiquitous pest, at least the starlings don’t worry about how they are perceived.  They go about casually and confidently doing their business, unheeding of the judgments of others.  In that sense they are as genuine as I could ever hope to be.

A gray cloud of swarming Blackbirds moves chaotically yet algorithmically through the sky, expanding, shrinking, changing shape, diving, ascending, with never a bird out of synchrony.  The cloud drops suddenly upon a broad, dead cottonwood, which instantly comes to life with cacophonic chatter, as if one-thousand concomitant voices are announcing life to the world.  What the birds’ squawking lacks in song it makes up for in eagerness and ebullience, in happy, boisterous communication to their family and their community, celebrating their togetherness, absolutely free of concern for any listener.  Without apparent signal from any leader, the birds suddenly lift off the tree, leaving it again a silent giant, and the noisy cloud hurries amorphously away over the ploughed fields.

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* * *

Jeanette called me one Saturday afternoon from her home in Arizona.  I sat in the living room as we spoke, looking out at the birds clamoring over and around the bird feeders.  With excitement in her voice, she told me that she had just seen a beautiful black bird with a yellow head, and asked me if I knew what it was.  I had seen hundreds of these striking birds clinging to tall reed grasses near the Great Salt Lake.

“Sure,” I told her, doing my best to sound intelligent.  “They are Yellow-Headed Blackbirds.”

“Oh,” she responded, and I could tell she felt dumb.

Outside my window, a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds was doing its best to chase a hundred House Sparrows away from the best perches on the feeders.  Jeanette ventured another bird question.

“What about those black birds with red bands on their wings?  What are they called?”

“Well,” I responded, pausing as if searching my memory, “those are Red-winged Blackbirds.”

“Oh,” she said again.  “Okay.  Thanks.”

“That’s alright,” I tried to reassure her.  “I just happen to know their names, and their names just happen to be exactly what you see.”

But she didn’t ask me any more bird questions.

* * *

Some creature rustles the tall grass, shrouded by drooping Russian Olive trees.  It’s big, I can tell, by the volume of sound.  Stooping to glimpse under the tree branches, a Mule Deer starts up from its bedding place to bound away over the grass and through the alfalfa.  Deer don’t belong here.  Their territory is in the mountains and foothills.  But this lush lowland, covered with sweet alfalfa and willow bushes, food and shelter, together with seeping springs, provides excellent year-round habitat.  They escape the starvation and predation common to the mountains, and are free from the pressures of the hunt, unless the farmer tires of their presence.  This deer, a small doe, is followed by another I had not seen in the thick grasses that reach taller than her withers, the doe’s chestnut blending with the lighter brown grass.  Farther away, a two-point buck stares at me intently, its haunches taught, its large ears pointed forward and twitching.  Caleb (2) pointed after the deer and called out “moose-doggies!”  Discovering little piles of deer droppings, John (4) told Caleb it was “moose-doggie poop.”

* * *

The sound of bowing and pizzicatoing crickets and katydids hovers over the pasture lands in the approaching twilight.  As I enter a copse of Russian Olives flanking Rabbit Lane, the sound becomes more than a merely pleasant ensemble ambiance.  Walking past the first trunks, underneath their boughs, I find myself suddenly inside the sound.  It surges rhythmically around me and through me.  It is as if I have stepped into a powerful magnetic field that excites and repolarizes all my trillion cells.  My body seems to pulse amidst the air and trees in which the invisible insects sing to one another.  I slow my pace to prolong the music.  Passing through the small tree cluster, I seem to step out of a symphony hall, where the sound was big and beautiful, and into the corridor with the music muted by insulating doors, a still audible and pleasant sound, but no longer compelling, no longer strumming my soul strings.  The orchestral cloud calls me back, and I succumb willingly, to linger even as the song dwindles in the evening’s waning warmth and light.

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10 thoughts on “Chapter 21: Cricket Chorus

  1. Paul

    Roger, I love the vivid descriptions you paint so well with words. I loved the phrase, “. . . their names just happen to be what you see.” I shall think on the importance of that in my life and actions.

    Thanks again.

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  2. Harv Russell

    STARLINGS !!!! ….a beautiful name for such a dreaded bird. I fell into the ranks of many a rancher and especially mink rancher who had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of these merciless creatures.
    As an example for which I speak so negatively about them…Mink ranchers feed a fresh feed resembling moist hamburger made up of ocean trash fish , poultry offal , guts from slaughter houses ,not for human consumption- cereal from Kellog’s and others and many other ingredients including vitamins and minerals, quite an expensive feed. The rancher feeds this on top of the wire pen and the mink pulls it thru from the inside of the pen.
    The feed cart on which he rides has a 300 lb. bin on it which he fills with the feed and with a pump at the bottom of the sloping tank pumps the feed up a 2 inch heavy hose thru a spout which the guy then can place a certain amount on the pen.
    Starting at one end of the 200 foot long sheds it would take about 3 to 4 minutes to feed each individual pen from one end to the other. By the time we would get to the far end the starlings by the dozens.. (closer to hundreds) would come in behind us and have the feed nearly cleaned off of the pens in the first half of the shed, which for some time there resulted in many a mal-
    nourished mink ,not to mention a much higher feed bill .
    It was only when we had to take the matter in our own hands and do what had to be done to remedy the problem ,which really couldn’t be fully remedied because of their “guttyness ” and stupidity which was hard for me to understand because actually they are a very intelligent bird.

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  3. Harv Russell

    You are an amazing person Roger. You have such a talent .You observe things and detail them .Most people don’t pick up on detail, they just see the overall picture and miss all the finer things or happenings that are going on.
    I must say I have never been so involved with my dictionary as I have been since I have started reading your postings. Thanks my friend..

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  4. Emily

    Nestled in bed last night, little Isaac engaged, too, at my side reading along with me. Savoring words, phrases, and images slowly, as if sipping, in pure serenity, something warming and very, very delicious.
    ” …strumming my soul strings.” — ah, yes….

    dear Roger, you have a such gift.

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