Archives for posts with tag: singing

The weather outside is frightful—lots of snow and very cold—but the heating pad (on the seed starting apparatus) is so delightful.  And since there’s no place to go, let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.

I’m referring, of course, to the herb seeds, the first of which sprouted today.  No matter how often I see a brilliantly green seedling pushing its tiny cotyledons up through the soil with a stem no thicker than a piano wire, I am still exhilarated by the sight.  It makes me want to sing.

The first herb seedlings to appear are a few of the basil—no surprise there—and a single rosemary.  The latter is a surprise considering that according to the seed packet, rosemary can take as long as 28 days to germinate (it has only been seven).

It is possible that the seedling growing in the rosemary row is, in fact, an escapee from another row.  Most of the herb seeds are miniscule (a poppy seed would be huge in comparison) and one or two oregano or spearmint seeds, for example, could have gone astray while I was sowing them.  I’ll know when the first set of true leaves unfurl.

When I finally kiss Rachel good night (how I’ll hate going out to shovel snow tomorrow), while she really holds me tight, all the night long the seedlings will be warm.  Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

This season’s unsung vegetables are the bell peppers and the eggplants.  That’s probably because there has not been much to sing about.  They have been steadily but quietly passing the days in the east planter, fending off intrusions from the nearby basil and enjoying the unobstructed sun they receive from the west (at least until the basil we transplanted there gets much bigger).

But they have not produced much.  Each of the pepper plants carries one ripening fruit and of these, three attained full size a week ago.  Since then, however, they have remained steadfastly green.  Eventually (I hope), they will turn either red or orange (we didn’t note exactly where we placed each variety) signaling that they are ready to be eaten.  Until then, we wait.

The eggplants, wedged tightly between the peppers and the basil, seem to be healthy enough.  The main stems are tall—at least two feet—and their leaves are large, thick and lush.  They remind me of tobacco leaves, another member of the deadly nightshades (family Solanaceae) to which they are closely related.

They have also been producing the most delicate blossoms in an understated shade of purple.  Beautiful as they are, though, it would appear that the pollinators in our neighborhood (bees, mostly) are not impressed by the color choice or do not care for the flavor of the eggplant’s pollen.  Whatever the reason, the flowers have not been successfully pollinated and no eggplants have formed.  So:  more waiting.  Gardening is not for the impatient.

At the other end of the garden, there is more to sing about.  The string beans are nearing maturity and the beets continue to thrive.  The beets have probably been harvestable for weeks (even accounting for this year’s slow growing season) but we’ve been storing them in-situ.  I think that the roots are better off in the ground than they would be in the refrigerator:  The weather has been moderate and the automatic watering ensures that they do not become dry.

In the meantime, the greens have filled out and darkened in color, an indicator of their high concentration of nutrients.  We continue to enjoy them when we do pull a few from the soil.  And we can’t get enough roasted beet roots.  We save them for a relatively cool day when turning on the oven will not heat the house too much.  Then, we savor their deep, earthy flavor with bitter lettuces and a simple vinaigrette.  They’re good enough to make me burst out into song.

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.

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.)

Who needs a thermometer when there are cicadas and crickets in the neighborhood?

When it is hot outside, the cicadas spend the day buzzing away raucously like construction workers tearing up a roadway.  In the middle of a sultry summer afternoon, they seem to be the only ones with the energy to work (if you can call it that) outdoors while the rest of us retreat to the shade of a tree or sequester ourselves indoors.  The drone of the cicadas is piercing and even the motorized hum of our air conditioners (equally incessant) cannot drown them out.

When I was a kid, I was told that if I counted the number of cicada clicks per minute and then performed some mathematical operations on the result, I could calculate the ambient temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.  I loved the idea—cicadas as meteorologists—but I could never figure out how to make an accurate count.  I did know, however, that the faster the cicadas beat, the hotter the temperature.  There was clearly a proportional relationship.

On a warm evening, the cicadas’ tune diminishes in volume, becoming a steady background rhythm for the song of the crickets.  They are the stars of the nighttime stage and their chirping reminds me of the calypso beat of steel drums.  And like beach parties in the Caribbean, the music goes on all night.  The crickets’ rhythm is actually much more complicated, a combination of hundreds of players that are mostly, but not quite, in sync.  It is a beautifully melodic exercise in harmonics.

Now when the weather turns cooler, as it has around here in recent days, everything slows down and becomes quieter.  The cicadas, having finished their summer construction projects, pack up their jackhammers and head elsewhere.  The crickets, diehard partiers that they are, stick around but seem to move the celebration indoors; the music plays on but it is attenuated, muffled perhaps by layers of vegetation as the crickets burrow in to ward off the cold.

When the music finally stops, I know that it has turned very cold indeed.  Fortunately, we haven’t yet reached that point.

In celebration of the holiday, this morning we attended a Fourth of July ceremony held in a Civil War era chapel not far from our house.  The preservation and use of the chapel had been taken up about ten years ago by a small group of passionate and motivated individuals and for most of the years since its restoration, the July 4th ceremony has been the high point of their calendar of events.  We have wanted to attend for a few years now but for one reason or another have not made the five-minute drive up the road.  Today, finally, we made the trip.

The chapel is small—perhaps 20 feet by 30 feet—and can hold about 50 people in six rows of pews.  When we got there, shortly before the service was set to start, it was already almost full.  By the time the festivities started, every seat was taken and a few people were standing at the back.  As the man who organized the event later observed, this is the first year that the crowd exceeded capacity.

The service included readings of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to and Bill of Rights from the Constitution, several patriotic poems (my only complaint with the service is that citations for the readings were not included in the printed program) and one or two blessings and prayers (even though the service was ostensibly secular).  Of course, we started with the Pledge of Allegiance (it has been a while since I have done this but I was able to remember the words).

The readings were all fine but what I enjoyed most was the singing.  After our pledge to the flag, we sang the first and last verses of the Star-Spangled Banner (I did not know previously that Francis Scott Key wrote four).  This was followed, at intervals, by America (which also has four verses), America the Beautiful (three verses; it may have more), This Land is Your Land (including some verses I had never seen before), God Bless America and a religious hymn I did not recognize.

Most of the lyrics were provided, thoughtfully, on a handout inserted into the program.  The handout did not include, however, the lyrics for the hymn and God Bless America.  I think this is because the organizers and most of those assembled were members of the congregation of one of the churches in town and knew the words from frequent singings at Sunday services.  I looked up the words to God Bless America on the internet and found that just like for White Christmas, Irving Berlin wrote for the unofficial national anthem a brief introduction that is almost never heard.

I had forgotten how enjoyable it is to sing with a large group of people, especially such familiar songs in such an informal setting.  Although there were clearly (and audibly) a few trained—or at least well-practiced—voices in the audience (I would include Rachel in this group), most of us were just belting it out (I did try to sing harmony on This Land is Your Landbut I’m not sure how successful I was).  It was a simple shared experience that provided joy to a small group of strangers on a hot July morning.

We plan to go again next year.