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by Margaret Hartley

Greenpoint

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Sounds of crickets and birds tell us that fall is coming

By Margaret Hartley
Thursday, August 28, 2014

The mornings sound different at this cusp of the year between summer and fall. Already there are fewer songbirds, so our dawn chorus has more chirpers than all-out singers.

Those bird chirpers have to fight to be heard over the other chirpers: the crickets and toads. And the ravens and jays work to drown everyone else out. Mornings are more buzzy; the sounds merge until it’s hard to tell one from another.

One morning last week, I stepped out with the dog and stopped to admire the way the low sun turned some low mountains orange. We stood and listened to a metallic chatter making an ambient hum.

Crickets, I thought, dominating the soundscape as they do in early fall.

A few steps closer to a neighbor’s and I realized my mistake. It was his old jeep warming up. I reclassified the sound: loose belt. Nature has all sorts of sounds.

This summer has brought new visitors, or maybe inhabitants, to the lake near us: a family of kingfishers and a solitary heron. The kingfishers chatter as they fly, and I watch them lead their half-grown children back and forth along the beach, from one over-hanging branch to another. Flying lessons.

HERON'S FLIGHT


Don’t tell the kingfishers, but herons are my favorite bird. To watch one standing straight and long at the edge of our little beach, then take off in that slow-winged way they have was a treat. And a treat that was repeated the next day when I saw it perched on a fallen tree at the edge of another part of the lake, huddled and shaggy, before stretching out and taking off again.

I love to watch them fly, with their necks pulled back and their legs dangling behind, their huge curved wings pumping air.

Once school starts, I’ll be back to taking my morning walks in the dark, observing the sky and trying to identify what animals are also awake by their rustling or stomping or snorting. It takes a while to get your brain tuned to using your ears for eyes, but by mid-winter I’m pretty good at it.

This time of year, we could use a little more training. One night my son came downstairs to say he heard a rustling sound from his room. I was making jam and my husband was talking to his brother in Florida, activities that precluded us from hearing whatever it was the boy heard.

“It’s probably a chipmunk in the wall,” I told him because, yes, we sometimes have chipmunks in the wall. Or the attic.

“It sounds sort of loud,” he said, and I told him it might be a squirrel. He went upstairs, then came back down.

“No, it’s really loud,” he said. “Also, it’s outside.”

LOUD NOISE


I went to look, my son behind me, wondering what we’d find. A deer in the woods? A bear? Something was making a lot of noise, breaking branches with a heavy footfall. That was no squirrel.

I’ve got to teach the boy to be more descriptive with his language. There was more rumpus than rustle happening in the woods. It was the giant ox, who had been sent to bed but apparently not tethered in his shed, out for an evening stroll.

The ox was put up, and we stood outside for a while, listening in the dark. An owl, a toad, some distant thunder. And those crickets, singing about fall.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday editor and features editor. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Email mhartley@dailygazette.net or follow on Twitter at @Hartley_Maggie.

 
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