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Creek Running North

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July 18, 2003


Walking up to the porch tonight at about 9:00, I heard crickets singing.

Make that singular. I think there's just the one.

And singing is the wrong word as well. You might call it chirping. A pedant would say stridulating. Not singing: no voice box or lungs involved. Simply serrated chitinous wings rubbing against each other, a small resonating box of membrane as an amplifier.

But call it a song anyway, its purpose attracting females and warning away other males. And for most of us who grew up in places with a bit more summer rainfall than the coast of California, cricket song carries more meaning than just the promise of more crickets next year.

It means summer evening, the long cool slide down the far surface of the earth out of the insistent sun's reach for a few short hours. The pie is cut and eaten, a slice or two remaining for the next day. Mosquitos' whiny flight punctuated by slaps. The younger kids doze, minds barely registering the hush of adult conversation, until someone picks them up off the lawn where they've fallen and carts them up to the second floor and bed. It's the sound of quiet contemplation and watermelon rind under bare feet, chlorine in the hair, Perseids falling in the dark of the moon.

And so I find it strange that cricket song has become modern shorthand for "Nothing's happening." A television joke falls flat, or someone says something truly odd that defies response, and the Foley artists splice in some cricket as a signifier that everything important has stopped for a moment. Sometimes, to make the point even more forcefully, the writers will arrange for a lone tumbleweed to roll past.

I mean, I do know how this happened. You have to be quiet to hear crickets, most of the time, at least here in California. And for many people, being quiet means nothing is happening. Our endless dialogues are all that's important. Sitting quietly constitutes a failure to talk. To even notice the cricket song, let alone to grasp a little of its import, means that something has gone horribly wrong: the hubbub has stopped, and non-humanity is showing through the cracks.

Which is an ironic thing for a writer to point out. I'll shut up now. Time to let the cricket talk.

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 18, 2003 10:23 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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