The Sounds of Summer: Crickets and Cowboys

Home on the Range
| Cricket Photo: w3iz_yu | Flickr: Creative Commons License

I asked the couple taking me to the movies in Westwood on Saturday evening, apropos of nothing, if they had noticed something about crickets. They hadn't.

What I had noticed was the absence of the crickets' nighttime chorus this summer.

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We came back from the movies after 11 p.m. My friends drove off, and I did the usual things before going to bed. I opened my bedroom window to air the still room, turned down the radio, and lay awake for a moment thinking about Randolph Scott. We had gone to see "The Tall T" from the Budd Boetticher series of Randolph Scott westerns at the Billy Wilder Theater.

Boetticher's westerns are as pared down as a Greek tragedy and as formal as Noh theater. You're not supposed to think about the logical inconsistencies.

In the pause before sleep, thinking about Randolph Scott's inability to shoot the badest of bad guys in the back, I heard -- I'm sure for the first time this summer -- one cricket. Its sound was very high and continuous, like a tightly wound steel string bowed rapidly. The cricket's stridulation (that's the word and almost a whole speech for Randolph Scott) went on and on until I fell asleep. The cricket's night was just beginning, insistently calling for a mate or defending his territory under the bignonia vine on my porch.

Past summers had more audio variety. Cross patterns of cricket chirps, some near my window, some seeming far away, were loud enough to drown out the radio, tuned to KUSC, if the music had reached a quiet patch. And crickets would precede my walk home after dark, dropping off as my footsteps neared and then picking up with renewed intensity when I'd passed.

I had not thought of crickets as temporary or cyclical, like seventeen year locusts. The crickets were permanent, I thought.

Generally speaking, Nature is commonly thought to be missing from the kind of suburb I live in. Of course that's not true. My suburb isn't a desert any more than the spare, riven foothills around Lone Pine, where Boetticher filmed several of his Randolph Scott westerns. My walks down my block this summer have been accompanied by the sights and sounds of scrub jays, mocking birds, crows (many), humming birds (a few), mourning doves, sparrows, and some other unidentified birds. The friends who took me to the movies have had a sparrow hawk in their Brazilian pepper tree and pompoms of mourning dove feathers on their front lawn to prove it.

Their neighborhood and mine has possums, raccoons (worryingly), skunks, and coyotes. To which Glendale can add bears and Malibu can add mountain lions. The missing sound of crickets might be excused in this excess.

I walked to church on the following Sunday morning. A stiff, cooling breeze was blowing from the west, the sound of it booming in my ears. On the way, some parked cars at the curb were jointly beeping antiphonally. I don't know if this had something to do with their anti-theft gear or competition for mates. The cars sounded like imitation mechanical crickets. (Real crickets sound to me as if the crickets are high-strung and responding to unseen forces in the air.)

There was some light chatter in the church vestibule. When mass began, we sang an entrance hymn: "All Are Welcome in This Place."

I wish the crickets felt more welcome (and the raccoons a little less).

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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