I had planned diverse undertakings for the summer but, as often occurs, my plans were shaken up like so much dice, tossed and rearranged. The new design has been a bit of a revelation.
The time has been partially shaped by bloomings of floral beauty; lulling, salty seashores; and dry, pungent forest pathways. And writing about what fascinates or puzzles, whatever tracks me down during night dreaming or micro-trances that come and go during wakefulness. You know, when that word, phrase or character rises up from subterranean recesses of mind and holds the writer enrapt by a teasing bliss. I’d always rather be outdoors writing or researching but there have been remarkable heat and drought this year. It can make one shudder.
Defining life by such redundant heat in the usually temperate Pacific Northwest is a valid, at moments scary, thing. It is not a diaphanous heat that turns all languid; it scorches all and encourages vast wildfires. It hurts pale uncovered flesh. To defend myself I have at the ready copious pitcher-fulls of herbal iced tea, at least SPF15 for ventures out, and an air conditioning unit for relief as needed. I write and sip, read and sip, scrub things and sip, at times feeling half-drunk on a chilled homemade brew of sweet peppermint and decaf black teas.
But there have been unexpected events regarding family stirring up responses like grief over my sister’s passing, deep concern for an adult child, a blood-slowing weariness. Health impediments have further challenged. I feel compelled to hole up inside following early morning moseys. A darned big toe got tendonitis–who would have thought?–and halted hiking. And dental woes have lately set my head reeling.
And yet. And yet when my inner reserves have threatened to simmer away to empty, refreshment is not far from reach. I know from experience how to find relief like a water diviner, replenishing the well. First there is daily prayer for healing and guidance and gratitude notations. There are kind friends and stalwart family with whom to share it all. Of course, imagination’s array of doorways open onto rich respite with a jazz riff or a symphony, a tale to be read or heard, little renderings of texture/color/form, a twirl that morphs into a dance across the floor. Where there is life, there is curiosity and its counterpart, amazement.
But nature, first and last, gives far more than receives from me. I do not own a garden plot. I mostly enjoy urban patches of land and flora and fauna if not out in Oregon’s storybook countryside. I seek and find each with appreciation. I cannot tell you how much happiness emerges from a scattering of wildflowers or mossy stones heaped at the base of a giant plane tree. The bees loving the lavender plants make me smile despite a fear of stinging things. Dew in early hours kisses a spider’s web, a poppy petal, secret squash planted on a corner. What saves us is often not what we think but a blue poppy might be it. I am a ready attendee, a witness who is loyal to nature’s programs. Little or much of it can right my world.
One evening after we finished watching a fascinating television program about Cuban cars and my spouse headed to bed, I remained restless. I piddled about until a vague but distinctive sound surfaced from a dull rumble of diminishing traffic. I pulled aside a filmy curtain. Held my breath. Listened.
“Come here!” I called to M. down a hallway.
“Why? Tired…” came the response.
“What?” He shuffled out to the living room.
I beckoned so he sidled up and followed suit, placing his ear against the screen window.
“Let’s go outside.”
“I’m already half undressed.”
“Aw, come on. I’ll go alone, anyway, you know.”
He put on his Keens and shorts and out we went in search of the crickets.
Beneath the towering American sweetgum tree we tried to locate the source of familiar sound. We stood before several bushes but the chirping seemed to ping-pong about the area.
“I haven’t heard them right here before, have you?”
He shook his head. We looked up. It seemed to emanate from the sweetgum branches. Was that possible? A cricket in the tree, on some branch? I had never heard a tree cricket, or had I? The chirping was fairly loud yet there seemed to be only a singleton. A frisson of energy swept up my back. As a raucous group walked by I stifled the urge to call out, “Quiet! Cricket concert in session!” I could have said mating song; that may have stopped them.
But there were more; I could hear them chorusing from around a corner. The hunt was on.
We tracked several loud ones communicating something important–perhaps: stay away from my girl–under bushes half a block down, a place we hadn’t found them before. Again, people tramped by without comment but I suspected they wondered why are those old folks squatting before the bushes?
I was puzzled. “They moved? Let’s go to the main meeting place they gather yearly and see if they came back.”
I was hopeful, even believed they would be there under large corner thickets of greenery where they congregated. It had been ten years that a large cricket community cohabited there. But as I crept up to the site, all was still. We patiently waited a few minutes, as movement can silence them. Disappointment came. Why would they move? Did someone exterminate them? Did they find better real estate? The silence seemed boundless other than a car coasting by and another couple who may have been asking what we were doing standing stock-still beneath an apartment’s dark window. More likely they were chatting about their own affairs. Maybe they had never heard the crickets sing at this corner, though it seemed impossible to have missed.
I felt displeased. M., also stumped, indicated however that it was time to return home. Yes, but first I had to find where the corner group had moved.
“How do we determine an old group? Don’t you know crickets come and go? They’re insects.”
A voice of reason when I am on such a search is one to be ignored. I followed the faint aural indicators that floated upon the darkness. Soft cool air rested on my skin. How I loved walking in the darkness, its pleasures so unlike daylight’s. Amber lights glowing in windows. Hushed voices of those on porches. A plaintive infant call for gentling arms. A random cat racing across our path, starting a skirmish with another in secret places. Life seemed clothed in a finer subtlety, punctuated with fresh flair. I heeded the allure of more crickets but I would have followed much, walked deeper into the night as I had many times before.
And then we came to a grand structure, one of many historic homes in our neighborhood. We couldn’t quite make out if the crickets had taken to bushes or trees as their singing was voluminous, rich in tone, urgent and wondrous.
“They moved,” I whispered. He knew better than to argue. I stood enraptured by the lulling cadence, repetitive chirupping that filled the night. I tried to imagine the up to three hundred “teeth” on wings that are rubbed to create sound, their tiny bodies an instrument. The courting and calling songs always seem to me songs of splendid accord. More crickets to come! But I hear as humans hear, with equal parts delight and ignorance. I was only an audience member.
I stood with eyes closed. It was hard to leave. I wanted to lie down beside them–wherever they were!–and have them sing me to sleep. A random nostalgia for campgrounds rose up, harkening back to my twenties when it was a common event. It all had to do with comfort and tranquility, a simplicity to life that can be misplaced while straightening out life’s knotty problems. I get tired of being so earnest in my efforts; why do I feel so much must and can be solved? Why not heed nature’s lessons, letting instinct guide more? Better to accept my small part in the grand scheme knowing it is counted, but not more than all others. I can relax since I am not the only one on the job. God and the crickets are fully engaged and the world turns as usual.
By the time we got home, I had an impulse to sleep on the back balcony in hopes of hearing more. It was not to be; I have too little space to accommodate potted plants and me. But the evening concert had restored me to a better state, where all is in right balance if I rediscover it, take it within and let it do its magic.
Weary? Impatient or disgruntled? Go out and seek evening’s offerings, have a good listen to the crickets. If you don’t have any nestling close by in shrubbery or trees, listen to a recording. You will hear a voice of the universe in their tireless singing. Small, sacred beings living a short time of the earth, like you.