Archives for posts with tag: music

I’m beginning to think that the Perseid meteor shower is nothing but a hoax, an elaborate practical joke pulled off by astronomers to keep all of us awake all night.

Based on the promise of as many as 90 shooting stars per hour, Rachel and I stayed up well past our bedtime tonight to see if we could catch a few of them.  The viewing conditions were good, for a change:  no moon and only the occasional wisp of a cloud (there was complete cloud cover during last night’s peak).  In fact, the night was unusually ideal with warm temperatures, low humidity and—blissfully—very few insects.

But there were also very few meteors.

Part of the problem for us is that we have a limited view of the night sky.  We live in the woods and there is only a small clearing where the house, pool and garden are located.  The surrounding trees are very tall and their height is accentuated by a rise in grade to the north of our house.  Consequently, lying on a hammock by the pool, we were gazing upwards almost as if at the bottom of a pit or opaque bowl.

A further complication is that we live only 60 miles or so from New York City.  It may seem like a great distance—over an hour’s travel by car—but at faster than 186,000 miles per second, the millions of lumens produced by the city’s buildings, billboards and streetlamps arrive in an instant.  There is little to obstruct the rays and a high concentration of particles in the air to diffuse them.  As a result, our southern sky is constantly aglow, even on moonless nights.

Yet another problem is that we are not night owls.  Staying up late is difficult enough but getting up in the middle of the night is next to impossible.  In previous years, I’ve set an alarm for 3:00 am or thereabouts, the time at which the constellation Perseus (from which the meteors appear to originate) is overhead.  But often it is chilly at that hour.  And even when I have roused myself and made my way outdoors, I have never really awakened sufficiently to appreciate what I was seeing.

Instead, we settle for late-night viewing, after 10:00 pm until around midnight.  At this hour, Perseus is still low in the northeastern sky, behind a high screen of maple trees.  Therefore, we miss (I presume) the bulk of the meteor shower.  I always imagine that a fireworks-like display of shooting stars is whooshing this way and that (yes, I know that meteors are actually silent) as we strain our eyes in vain, the scene obscured from our sight by the dense foliage.  Or maybe there is nothing there.

So, we didn’t get the lightshow we were hoping for; in an hour and a half of viewing, we caught sight of two satellites and a grand total of four meteors (to be fair, they followed the long, slow trajectory for which the Perseids are famous).  On the other hand, we did get a pleasant evening together outdoors, in the sweet summer air, listening to the comforting background music of the crickets and cicadas.

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Around here, the Dog Days of August are preceded by the Frog Days of July.  Early in the month, the amphibians begin to appear in and around the pool.  At first, there are only one or two but by mid-month, their numbers have increased to about a dozen or so.

Most of them are a smaller variety (leopard frogs?), just over an inch long when sitting.  They spend a lot of their time floating at the water’s surface with their limbs extended in a kind of dead man’s float (frogs don’t have necks so they can’t float with their faces in the water).  Often, they are drawn into the skimmers where frequently I find them swirling around in a daze.

When this occurs, I pull them out of there and shoo them into the grass, hoping they will find another body of water to call home.  It is a futile gesture, however, and they almost always return.  Sadly, these small fry end up doing a dead frog’s float after succumbing to the chlorine in the water.

The remaining frogs, of which there is never more than a few, are the larger American bull frogs.  They grow to a size of four to five inches long when sitting—and sit they do.  And sit, and sit, and sit (just like T.S. Eliot’s Gumbie Cats).  They will eventually take a short dip in the water or dive to the bottom for a spell or even take a ride on one of the floating canisters that hold chlorine tablets.  Unlike their smaller cousins, the bull frogs can jump out when they want to and seldom get caught in the skimmers (although it does happen; see September 25, 2011).

At any given moment but especially in the evenings just after dark, two or three of them can be found perched at the edge of the pool deck, pondering the great blue depths of the water.  Sometimes they sing to each other and other times they sit quietly, simply enjoying (it seems) each other’s presence.  Not our presence, though:  When we approach for a late night swim, they squeak testily and hop away.

For the last week, there has just been one bull frog in attendance (well, I think it is the same one), joining us for our pre-bed skinny dip.  This seems to be the case every year and I assume that he (or she, as the case may be; how does one tell?) has chased the others away and claimed our pool as his exclusive province.  Consequently, I call this lone survivor Ol’ Boss Frog (anyone else read Walt Kelly’s Pogo?) and give him his proper respect.

Warning:  Insect photo below.

This morning, we found the culprit who has been munching its way through the basil and leaving a nasty mess behind:  a large, hairy caterpillar.  I’m not sure what it will eventually morph into (a moth, probably) but it looks more like something I would see if I put a drop of swamp water on a glass slide and looked at it under a microscope (i.e., more Parameciidae than Lepidoptera).  We clipped off the leaf it was clinging to, along with the other soiled leaves, and tossed them into the woods.

We also replanted—again—the arugula seedlings that a friend gave to us.  They had not been doing well in their pot (too small) and we are hoping that by moving them to the east raised bed (where the other lettuces have been happily growing) they will have a better shot at survival.

At the other end of the garden, the Kabocha squash plant looks to be a climber. It has been steadily creeping outward from its mound of soil, searching for something to wrap its tendrils around.  To accommodate it, we built a tripod of six-foot-high stakes (the green plastic type, tied together at the top with twine) and trained the vine up one of the legs.  Its leaves are now facing the wrong way (north) but they should soon readjust.

From the top of the tripod, we hung a temple bell that a friend gave me for my birthday (the same generous friend who gifted me the blue ceramic pot; see June 29, 2013).  Gleaming with reflected sunlight, the bell now anchors the west end of the garden and provides a meditative—and melodic—focal point for anyone passing by.

In the afternoon, as the sun—and the temperature—rose higher, we became aware of the arrival of the dog-day cicadas.  Their high-frequency, rapid-fire clicking cyclically swells to a crescendo before suddenly coming to a stop.  The pause always gets my attention (with the final staccato notes ringing in my echoic memory) and leaves me waiting expectantly for the resumption of the music, which usually follows shortly.

The song of the cicadas fills the aural void left behind by their 17-year cousins and marks (for me, anyway) the peak of the summer season.

The song of the 17-year cicadas is starting to wane.  It is not nearly as loud as it was just a week ago.  Then, the sound was the first thing we heard in the morning and couldn’t be ignored.  Now, we have to stop and listen for it.

But the cicada population is extremely localized.  We’ve heard that their numbers are greater across the river, for example, and that their music is cacophonous and distracting.  Also, the ground is littered with cicada carcasses there, both alive and dead.

Closer to home, a garden center a couple of miles down the road from us (to the south) is located in a cicada hot-spot.  The drone is still loud enough to feel as well as hear.  Also, their nursery, with its vast expanses of shrubs, hanging plants and potted seedlings, is thick with cicadas bumbling around in their clumsy way.

These large bugs are not the best fliers and will literally bounce off the walls or alight on a customer’s brightly-colored shirt.  And each plant purchased comes with a complimentary cicada or two, free to take home.

We’ve been very fortunate this year to have two featured players in the local orchestra that produces the sounds of nature.  The concerts occur daily but the new musical artists are appearing for a limited time only.

Since the beginning of June (see May 31, 2013), we have had a daily serenade from the 17-year cicadas.  They start just as the sun rises above the mountain ridge to the east, about seven o’clock this time of year.  I’m not sure whether it is the direct sunlight (the trees are in the shade until that hour, after which they become illuminated from the top down) that gets the cicadas going or the increase in ambient temperature that accompanies it (they are very sensitive, thermally).  Either way, their tune is our audible signal that the day has begun.

Once cued, they keep at it diligently throughout the full-sun hours and do not take a rest until the sun lays down its baton on its final approach to the horizon, at around seven o’clock in the evening.  That’s twelve hours of continuous music-making, every day.  Despite its similarity to sci-fi special effects, the melody—bass continuo might be a more apt term—is comforting.  It is a love song, after all.  We will miss it when it comes to an end.

Starting at about the same time each morning, birds perched in the weigela and forsythia that form a hedge between our yard and the road begin a complex aria of some of the most exuberant birdsong I have ever heard.  I suspect that there are several bird families nesting within the shrubs’ dense foliage and based on the energetic and animated chirping, warbling and trilling, they must be very proud parents indeed.  I’m not sure what species they are but these divas would put the fanciest canary to shame.

Like the cicadas, the birds carry on all day and sometimes into the evening (unlike the cicadas, they must not be unionized).  It is only when the sun is completely below the horizon and the sky has become fully dark that they tuck the little ones in and settle into bed.  Shortly after that, the orchestra now quiet, we do the same.  (When the crickets and frogs start their summertime gigs next month, I’m not sure we’ll know when to go to sleep.)

Several years ago, I fell in love with Hawaiian slack key guitar music.  We had attended a performance of Ballet Tech (formerly, Feld Ballets/NY) at the Joyce Theater in New York City and one of the dances was set to a piece called Moe ‘Uhane, or Dream Slack Key, by Sonny Chillingworth.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful, a melodious evocation of the tranquility and beauty of the islands.

I’m afraid it overshadowed the dance (sorry, Eliot!) but the music stayed with me.  Fortunately, the program for the performance included a reference (thanks, Eliot!) and I was able to track down the CD from which the music came (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters, issued by Dancing Cat Records).  I purchased it, and then another (Volume 2) and then another.  We shortly had a small collection of traditional Hawaiian music.

When it came time to plan this trip, we checked online to see whether we might find a live concert during our stay.  To our delight, we found George Kahumoku, Jr.’s Slack Key Show, a weekly performance by masters of Hawaiian music.  It takes place every Wednesday evening in the Aloha Pavilion of the Napili Kai Resort, right across the street from where we are staying.

The only downside is that Uncle George (a slack key guitar master) is touring on the mainland.  His sidekicks, Da Ukulele Boyz, are hosting in his absence and their guests tonight are Herb Ohta, Jr. (ukulele) and Jon Yamasato (guitar).  Their background is traditional but they also played some contemporary music.  Along with guitarist Sterling Seaton and the elegant hula dancer Wainani Kealoha (who performed to Hanalei Moon), they put on a tremendous show (and we were able to get autographed CDs as souvenirs).