You know the melody. One, or two, or many hundreds of crickets chirping their cricket chirps to serenade the world around them. Just this morning, before dawn, the dog and I stepped out for our ritual morning hike down to the end of the road. We were met with the chirp of an individual cricket. Then several more, and suddenly the whole orchestra joined in. And there was nothing odd about it.
Just over a week ago I was in South Central Tennessee on a warm August afternoon. The sun was shining, and folk were gathering from all over the continent. This was the lead up to the total eclipse and an anticipatory buzz from the humans filled the air. Young and old, rich and poor, all gathered to see the sun overtake the moon in its path and leave a shadow on the earth.
And at the appropriate time we were rewarded with at first a little sliver of shadow, then a bit more, and in due course the very spectacular showing as the eclipse went total. The sky darkened. Street lights came on. People gushed oohs and awes. And the crickets started to sing. Quarter of three in the afternoon and the crickets were up for the medley. There were cicadas too, buzzing their notes for the opera… but the crickets had the lead. This was odd. But it was only odd to a human who would consider cricket song an issue of night and not day. Given the circumstances, how would the crickets know there was an eclipse? I’m doubting they cover such events in cricket astronomy classes. [and if they did, then certainly the Tennessee crickets must have been absent the day it was covered]
Context. The very same thing can happen in one situation passing for perfectly normal while be totally unexpected in a different situation. There may be a logical explanation for why something might occur in an unexpected situation, but until we appreciate the causes we tend to consider it odd. Or rude. Inappropriate at the very least. Is it the cricket’s fault for not appreciating that an eclipse is not the same as nightfall? In absolute terms, yes. Dumb crickets. But if we turn this chirping business on its head for a second and consider what it might mean if the crickets did NOT sing at a summertime total eclipse… are they too fast asleep?… are their tiny little brains so complicated as to have reckoned the motion of the sun and moon and having expected the eclipse choose to remain silent because to chirp would be a bad thing in the day time?… I really don’t imagine crickets can predict an eclipse, but they do manage to reproduce in large numbers. They can’t be too dumb.
Ever notice how when walking through a yard or meadow after dark when the crickets are chirping you cast a sort of shadow around yourself where the crickets shut up until you pass? If you stop and hold still the crickets nearest you who have gone quiet will strike up the song again. And at your first stirring of significance they shut up again. They aren’t dumb.
Well, most of them aren’t dumb. Remember the morning stroll with the dog? As I got back to our house this morning I paused to wait for the dog to catch up. She was sniffing and looking about… being a dog. As I waited I noticed the close by crickets start up again. As expected. Next the dog comes along and her ‘cricket shadow’ moves up to include me… again, as expected. Now we both make our way up the walk to the door, and some insolent little bugger chirps quite loudly from very close by. That dude was dumb.
Before closing I should offer condolences to the Southeast Texans who are struggling from the horrific drenching they’ve received (continue to receive) at the hands of Harvey. An eclipse and a hurricane – our world in beauty and horror. And still the crickets sing.
Bob Dylan wrote a song about crickets, hurricanes, and high crescent moons. And a couple months ago he submitted his Nobel lecture just in time to merit the big ticket financial award. He is something, no? I wonder if he were a cricket if he’d be the insolent little bugger. Anyway, reproduced here – the first and last two stanzas from Bob Dylan’s: Man In The Long Black Coat
Crickets are chirpin’ the water is high
There’s a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry
Window wide open African trees
Bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze
Not a word of goodbye not even a note
She gone with the man in the long black coat
There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way
But people don’t live or die people just float
She went with the man in the long black coat
There’s smoke on the water it’s been there since June
Tree trunks uprooted beneath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating on a dead horse
She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote
She gone with the man in the long black coat
Image credit for the color cricket/violin here.