Cricket music is to September what peeper music is to April and May — an unequivocal sign of the times. Field crickets convene in my living room whenever a cold front rolls out of the north. They scurry along walls, shadowed by the heat register, traveling from one throw carpet to another. The house is theirs.
At night we hear indoor crickets serenades. Going to bed is like going camping. From dusk to dawn territorial males broadcast salvos of triple chirps or continuous high-whining trills to attract female crickets to their corner of the house.
Occasionally, one crosses open ground, skidding in full view over the slippery tile floor. When Casey, my 14-month-old son, spots a cricket, he drops to all fours and trails it with a short-lived but intense determination. Usually, the cricket gets away or Casey’s attention wanes, but once in a while he grabs it, radiating exuberance. I encourage his interest in those little forces of nature, those seemingly pedestrian beings that most of us long ago ceased to consider.
Although he has no formal training n entomology, Casey is learning about crickets. I tell him that crickets are among the oldest of insects, that their ancestors — the planet’s first minstrels — fiddled to dinosaurs, and that their music is mechanical, produced by rubbing their front wings together. The base of each wing has a file, I say, a scraper, and a vibrating membrane, the tympanum. The file of one wing rubs against the scraper of the other wing, setting both tympana in motion. Crickets hear through the middle section of their front legs — the tibia — I continue.
Unimpressed by my pedantry, Casey eyes a black cricket scooting across the floor. I try a less scholarly approach: “Let’s get the cricket!” Now we’re on the same wavelength. We chase the cricket into a corner. It darts behind the bookcase.
From a remote corner of the kitchen, another cricket sings. We’re off. Casey heads for it with determination. Unwilling to watch this lesson end in a cricket-shaped splotch on the floor, I reach his quarry first and and gently pick it up, cradling it in my hand.
Its passionate song seeps through my fingers — a metronome that keeps cadence with the changing season. It evokes a vision of meadows frosted with asters, gilded with goldenrods, of a cold moon embedded in September clouds.