When the Crickets Stop, Winter Starts

Oct 23, 2015

In New Hampshire, male crickets start singing in July or August.  They stop singing when the temperature drops below 50 and they die when it gets too cold.  The death of the crickets is, in a way, a sign that winter has begun.  This year, as NHPR's Sean Hurley reports, the crickets stopped on October 17th with the first hard frost.

For the last six weeks, at 10 o'clock every night, Sean has been recording the crickets in his backyard.  The following story is bedded with his recordings - a "soundlapse" of forty four nights of cricket chirping, condensed into four minutes.  You'll hear rain, the river swelling in his backyard - and of course lots of lots of crickets.

But we start in his bedroom - it's August 26th and he and his wife are having trouble falling asleep...

A cricket snuck into the house in late August.  It was like a gym whistle had come to live in our bedroom.  

With a flashlight, on my hands and knees, I found him beneath a sock.  I used the old cup and sheet of paper routine to catch him.  I brought him outside and dropped him in the grass.  And stood listening to the crickets.  In their bedroom now.  

I went out the next night and the next to listen. I have this suspicion that the crickets start up when I open the back door. Like the seemingly always on light in the refrigerator. Their sound comes along like wind rush or bird song. Rises from the ground and falls from above. There's a more uniform, filled in outer circle of sound. A ringing outer ring.

September 6, 62 degrees.

And then closer circles breaking down until individual crickets can be discerned - until there's just one very close cricket, loud and clear a few feet away. Altogether it's a kind of tinnitus outside the head - and just like the one inside, you can ignore it or it can drive you mad.  It can be beautiful or enraging. 

September 17, 61 degrees.

While I listened I looked up at the stars. The tiniest big things we'll ever see. The furthest away things we'll ever see. All silent as atoms. And the crickets all around me, however many hundreds or thousands of them.  All hidden.  Not one visible.  

And I tricked myself and let their values cross.  Looking up were little bright dots of the crickets.  Listening down I heard the invisible stars.  Can something that isn't at all something else, be a good example of it?  The stars in this case and crickets. 

September 27, 44 degrees. Lunar eclipse night.

What can't be seen or heard are the equal numbers of silent female crickets searching for their partners.  But love is like that for people too.  There is the chattering part and the quiet part.  A public display and a private rendezvous.

October 10, 40 degrees.

I stop hearing them then, but keep going out just in case until October 17th when the temperature drops to 34 and brings along the first hard frost. Yellow leaves cover the chilled grass.  Apples fall from our apple tree.  And the crickets are as quiet as the stars. 

Except for the new one, one of the last ones around, who's come to live out the rest of his life in our bedroom.  I catch him using the old cup and sheet of paper routine.  And drop him in the corner of our living room and go and fetch a sock.  

The last of the gym whistles, the last star in the sky, it's his bedroom now. 

What follows is a "soundlapse" of the 40 or so recordings Sean made between August 26 and October 17th.  You'll hear occasional rain, wind, and the rising of a nearby river.   You'll also hear a piano note every few seconds - used to mark both a new night's recording and the temperature.  Crickets chirp faster when it's warmer and less frequently as the temperature drops.  Deeper piano notes indicate warmer temps - higher notes mean colder.  

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