Volume XI, Issue 40 ~ October 2-8, 2003

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Carr-Tunes ~ by Steve Carr

Summer’s End

We are unofficially into that time of year I refer to as Summer’s End. The sun is sinking south, and when it sets each evening, there’s a crisp chill to the air that holds on into the early morning and evening hours. But summer is still hanging on by the skin of its teeth. The leaves haven’t started to change and the daytime temps are warm and soothing.

This year the transition began like clockwork right around the first of September. It was like, “Okay, August is over and it’s time for the stinkpot humidity to take a hike.” September arrived and so did the cooler weather. Adios to the Dog Days of August.

In a few weeks fall will take over and there it will be, winter knocking on the door. But for now we can turn off the air conditioners, put away the bug spray and venture outside without fear and loathing.

This is a busy time. Like squirrels stockpiling a cache of nuts for the impending cold, we start tying up the loose ends of our lives. The paint job we never finished because it was too hot or too wet. Cutting firewood for the wood stove or fireplace. Re-caulking the north facing windows on the house. Putting away the patio furniture and grill. Carting the kids off to school. There is so much to do.

The animal world is following the same drum beat. The osprey are making their long migration back to Central and South America for the winter. Butterflies nervously flit from plant to bush in search of that last remaining drink of nectar. Fish like stripers and blues start schooling up and hunting bait fish in frenzied packs. This is a time of crackling energy for all living things, large and small.

The Kingdom of Crickets
Sitting out on my porch the other night, I was taking in the sights and sounds. Immediately crickets caught my attention. Crickets are the one common denominator in our lives. No matter where you live, from rural southern Maryland to the mountains of the Piedmont to downtown Baltimore or the suburban palaces of Potomac, we are all surrounded by a billion crickets. They rule Summer’s End.

This has been an outstanding year for crickets. The rain has produced lush green lawns and the crickets are loving life. When I cut my grass yesterday, it looked like one of those old Japanese monster movies — The Attack of the Killer Lawn Mower. There was never a time when there weren’t a mob of crickets leaping ahead of me trying to stay out of the path of the deadly mower blades. I found myself constantly slowing down and sometimes even stopping to avoid grinding up the poor little crickets.

As a general rule, the crickets lay low during the day, but a few hours after sundown the cricket concert begins. Cricket music starts up with a few improvisational solos from all points on the compass. I had crickets outside the porch, crickets singing from the woodpile, crickets in the bushes. Crickets, crickets, everywhere, all singing their little legs off.

I don’t know about you, but I find the cricket chorus to be one of life’s truly magical things. How can an animal make such a racket by rubbing its legs together? Imagine what life would be like if we could rub our legs together and make such a piercing and plaintive sound. Dating would fast become obsolete, I suppose.

Crickets don’t like the cold, and the cooler evening temperatures bring them hopping inside our homes.

A few nights ago, the living room floor looked like some sort of cricket track and field contest was taking place. Several varieties of crickets — I apologize, but I really don’t know one from another –— high-jumped or sprinted across the room. There were those big black ones and there were some squatty tan ones and there were several green models that looked like streamlined racing cars.

I soon found myself completely ignoring the TV and focusing instead on the cricket Olympics. How did they all get in my house? Do they come inside to escape the cold for the evening and then go back outside during the day? If they stay inside, then what do they eat?

So many questions.

I briefly contemplated doing some research on these home invaders but then decided why destroy the mystery.

When my curiosity finally got the better of me, I went through Mid-Atlantic field guides. Know what I found out about crickets? Nothing. Apparently, none of the field biologists have noticed the fact that the whole coastal plain of Maryland is virtually swarming with a wide variety of crickets. Even the ecological bible of the Bay, Bill Sipple’s Days Afield fails to mention the fact that this place is crawling with crickets.

And so the mystery remains.

Summer’s Passing
This year’s Summer’s End brought with it Mars and the Man in the Moon. I stood in my back yard a few weeks ago, as if in some spectacular outdoor theater in the round, while the cricket orchestra was performing a complex and frenetic piece of music. A full moon lit the southeast sky and Mars, the closest it will be to earth in many, many millennia, parked itself like a bright, red ruby right next door. Enormous cottonball clouds with burnt-orange edges cruised through the moonlight as if on some secret aerial maneuver. A flock of geese flew over the Severn River in silent single file. And I knew without a doubt that summer was ending.

I felt a shiver run up my back, and I shook off the melancholy that comes when you realize that the warmth of summer is fading like a memory and will soon be replaced by the cold silence of winter. See, that’s the thing: We hate the summertime humidity, and we complain endlessly about the heat. But there is, nevertheless, something profoundly sad in the passing of summer. That’s why we shift gears when summer heads south. We want to stay busy so we don’t have to think too much about what’s dead ahead.

In a few short days the trees will be a riot of color. The lawns will turn brown. Half the birds that have been living here since spring will suddenly be gone. The marshes will die back and reveal their simple elegance. And the human inhabitants of the Chesapeake Bay will begin to move back inside, like crickets.

I love the changes in seasons, but I’m a warm-weather guy at heart. I hate to see summer end. It always feels like I’m losing an old and dear friend. But in the passing away, we gain new perspectives, start making new friends and memories.

So I suggest we all turn off the tube, head outside into the sparkling dark of night, look up to the sky above and thank our lucky stars that we live in a land where the end of summer can make us both happy and sad; where the beginning of fall can bring a giddy anticipation and gloom; and where the living is still easy. Oh yeah: please try not to step on too many crickets ’cause this place is their home, too.

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Last updated October 2, 2003 @ 2:37am