November 2006

I didn't sleep well last night. The owls kept me awake. I am so attuned to the sounds of nature, I doubt if I could sleep in a screened sleeping porch for the sounds would excite me and keep me awake, but I surely would like a chance to try. Always wanted a sleeping porch. Once air-conditioning arrived for houses, sleeping porches went out of style, went the way of the horse and buggy.

Just imagine lying abed high in a sleeping porch feeling the warm shifting currents moving across you - air that had sighed in the pine trees sifting through the fragrant needles then moving across the porch carrying pine fragrance - the fragrance alone seems cooling.

That soft sound of air in the pines is reason enough to plant a few. What if snow and ice snap a few limbs; more will grow. What if that makes them warty looking; who cares, as long as we can hear that soft breath whispering, and smell that spicy air.

In summertime the night sounds would be candle-fly moths beating against the screens, drawn to a reader's lamplight before it is doused; and there would be screech owls, as well as, great horned owls (candle-fly, beware!), plus the loud choruses of tree frogs, katydids, and who knows what else that is out there - singing all night until just before dawn, when all would become quiet. Then just before first light, the first bird would peep, then another, until the whole of 'birddom' would regale the sun with songs of joy to be alive... sung en masse in tiny pulsing throats with tiny trilling tongues by tiny hearts full of joie de vivre.

Soon the day would fill with the rasping sounds of cicadas singing through summertime heat thick as treacle molasses. During summers of the seventeen-year or thirteen-year generations they scrape their up and down songs so loud folks can hardly speak above the noise, sounding as I imagine the Serengeti.

High heat, yes, but evening brings time of a tepid bath and pine scented breezes stirring damp locks. Tired from strenuous gardening, sleep might come, after all.

Now it is late autumn. Now, I can imagine snuggling between down comforters (duvets) when the air is cold, and listening to the sound of wind in the trees rattling the bare branches of oaks, hackberry, ash, rattling holly leaves and whispering around the corner of the house … and the owls - great horned owls soft-cooing back and forth between them. I have read that they mate in January and nest in February.

Great horned owls come in different colors: reddish brown to gray or black and white. Ours are brown. The female is larger than the male. I have seen them many times, even in daylight.

One afternoon I started up the hill path toward the house after working in the lower section of the garden. I was tired as usual and moving slowly (as usual). They paid me no heed whatsoever, the two of them. I don't remember what time of year it was, but they flew past me and perched in a couple of large trees at the top of the bank not far from me. One larger, one smaller, I assumed they were a mated pair, cute as could be "talking" back and forth to each other. The only way I could tell who was speaking was by watching to see the slight bobbing of the head. Even though I was feeling privileged, I finally grew tired of watching and went on into the house.

Last night, I was glad to hear them. We have lost so many of our large trees I was afraid the owls wouldn't come around any more. But they have, and, I can't explain how that makes me feel. I think the closest I can come to it, is to say: "blessed".

It is getting late, now, so I will say 'Goodnight' and head for bed. I know I will lie there, and listen, in hopes of hearing them out there "talking" - in the night

(A who's who of cicadas.)
Kathleen A. Gaskell, "They're Back!"

"There are seven species of periodical cicadas in North America: four species that emerge every 13 years (generally found in the South and Midwest) and three that emerge every 17 years and are usually found in the North, including Brood X. Each of the 17-year species has its own song. Even though more than one species may emerge at the same [sic], careful listeners should be able to figure out which is which. Magicicada septemdecim sounds like "pharaoh," and most commonly sings in the morning. If it's mid to late afternoon and sounds like someone trying to start up a lawn mower, that's M. cassini. Midday "lawn mowers running smoothly," are M. septendecula."

Great Horned Owls' photos and sounds - click here