July 20, 2015

I heard it last night while driving home, the car windows open. I drove down to the river and parked. And listened.

A waltz played by a massive orchestra filled the night: cicadas, crickets. And there were the soloists: barred owl, screech owl, night hawk, bat. Beautiful music played on a stereo, filtering through an open window: “Symphony #3,” by the great Philip Glass.

Male cicadas’ tymbals, thin, disk-shaped membranes, vibrate in and out, along the sides of their mostly hollow bodies, producing clicks. Crickets make music though stridulation, wing rubbing wing.

All of this music is about sex. One imagines ladies of the species sitting in tiny lawn chairs on tree branches and trying to find that special man, in a wave of millions of singing men, all performing in the same key.

American Indians believe that all insects sing in the same key: D flat, the longsong of the Great Spirit.

The longsong pulsed in waves and echoed across to the islands and back. It was soothing music, like lapping water. It made me think of my Grandma Olive, who spent her walking life attempting to annihilate every insect from every one of her houses. There was no romance in her bones. She told me when katydids sing, winter was not far away.

Birdsong riles my cat. She perches on the back of my desk and looks out the window and trembles and gnashes her teeth. But cricketsong, cicadasong: these narcotize her. She flattens her body for balance and stares into the blackness of night.

The longsong plays from mid-July to September, the tempo speeding up to an August frenzy then fading to dénouement, the theme of the music mirroring an Icelandic saga foretelling the long, cold, dark nights of the soul.

But last night, my belly full of home grown tomatoes and kale and blackberries and raspberry sorbet, the music was a call to dance: an invitation to the raccoon mom and children that walked in front of the car toward the garbage bin, to the yellow feral cat which prowls along my front yard, to the heron and egret rookeries, to the starfall shower, to me.

But I don’t dance. I have always remained seated for dances.

But I listen. I wonder: how can all the insects sing in one key? Is it sameness? Is it cooperation?

The Philip Glass music fades. The night hawks alight on nests and sleep. The bats hang themselves. The owls perch and wait: andantino.

The longsong plays me to bed.





About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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