Hot Sounds

No, not the latest in music. The rattling drone rising and falling outside my windows, tapering off for a moment only to rise in a new wave of sound. Cicadas are singing. 

They appear, seemingly all at once, in mid-July of most years. One evening you hear crickets and (occasionally) frogs, the next the rattling drone fills the air, drowning out conversation and announcing the arrival of high summer. To my ear they sound hot, lacking melody or pitch, just ripples and waves of rising and sinking volume, much like the shimmer of heat from pavement and bare fields. Cicadas rasp and rattle while the plains bake and sigh.

These cicadas are not the 17 year version. Ours arrive annually. They are small and look at first like giant fleas, especially the tan shells they leave on every rough vertical surface. Then the are large and black, with huge eyes and dark green bodies. They terrified me at first.

That's the one. From

That’s the one. From

Crickets sing at night and the cicadas tune up in mid afternoon, carrying their drone through to sunset. They are the harbinger of the dog days, the baking July and August afternoons when the sun beats down from a brassy sky devoid of even the faintest hint of a cloud. They provide the music for dust devils twirling across harvest-tired fields of wheat stubble. While cicadas sing, the playa lakes shrink, losing water and fading into muddy pans surrounded by toasting grass.  Cows stand or lay around, chewing their cud and swishing at flies that seem to make token attempts at annoyance. Horses and men, equally unenthusiastic, amble from shade to water to shade, working only out of necessity. Even the nights, normally a respite from the baking sun, hold the heat until dawn returns to start the process anew. And the cicadas thrive, singing their rattling song.

And then the grey norther comes . . .