Saturday, July 30, 2011

Whiners vs. Shakers

So suddenly we're into High Summer.

High Summer here is characterized by a rapid decline in firefly populations, average temperatures reaching their annual peak, skies edging increasingly towards the milky, and weeds starting to crowd out the tired annuals and perennials favored by us humans.

Soon it'll become obvious that the days are getting shorter and that the year is once again slowly but inexorably sliding towards another cold, gray Winter Solstice.

The hinge that the year seems to be pivoting on squeaked loudly for me last evening as I sat on the patio and heard a cacophony of cicadas in the trees beyond my back yard.

I heard the first shy cicada start singing its solitary song on July 2. These so-called 90-day cicadas allegedly start their annual chorus 90 days before the first frost but I'll be very surprised if we have freezing temperature before the third week of October.

Regardless of their questionable predictive powers, cicadas have long fascinated me. The fact that something no bigger than my thumb can make so much noise, day after day after day, has filled me with the hope of sitting up in a tree and making an awesome noise of my own someday. (If that noise can be made by sucking an entire ice cream sundae into my mouth with a straw in 2.3 seconds, so much the better. Research continues!)

Oddly, the cicadas here in central Ohio sound different than the cicadas I grew up with in northwest Ohio. It's a difference I've never heard anyone else mention despite its obviousness. Am I the only one who has noticed it? Am I the only one who cares?

The essential difference is this: Toledo's cicadas whine while Columbus's cicadas shake. To be even more exact: Toledo's bugs produce a warbling up-and-down whine that goes something like RRRRRRRRR-weeeeeee-RRRRRRRRRR-weeeeee-RRRRRRRRR-weeeee followed by a r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r of a slowdown while Columbus's bugs sound more like a hyperactive kid who has just been given a new set of maracas for his or her birthday. Both have their charms but I think I prefer the whiners.

I can recall sitting on my back porch many times as a child listening to that whining sound and trying to decide if it was coming from a malfunctioning electrical transformer on a nearby utility pole or if it was being produced by alien spaceships. No matter how hard I looked, I could never gather enough information with my eyes to decide.

To be fair, the shakers down here in Columbus seem to be working harder, which is impressive in its own way, but... unless one can easily imagine aliens with enough of a sense of humor to disguise themselves as rapidly swinging hollow gourds stuffed with dried beans, they're not likely to induce the same sort of otherworldly mood.

My advice to you: If you're craving an otherworldly mood, hie thee to Toledo.

And while you're there, be sure to enjoy the squirrels, too.

Yes, Columbus has squirrels as well, but they're grey squirrels. Grey squirrels are quite entertaining in their own way (especially if you can get them to hold still long enough to slip little sombreros on their heads) but Toledo has beautiful fox squirrels. I don't think I saw a grey squirrel until after I moved out of Toledo when I was 18. Since then, I've seen almost nothing but grey squirrels. The fox squirrels that I assumed were the norm and took for granted as a kid now seem wonderfully exotic.

I don't know why there are such significant differences in cicadas and squirrels living just 120 miles apart. I don't think the differences between people living in the two cities are quite as significant, but then again I've heard very few of them singing, and almost none of them have seen fit to reveal to me the color of the fur on their backs and bellies. Suffice it to say that the differences between one Toledoan and another and one Columbus resident and another seem much greater than the differences between two residents of these cities chosen at random. Just the reverse seems true of cicadas and squirrels.

There's also a charmingly unique group of black squirrels living in Norwalk, Ohio that seem rather more interesting than many of the people I've met in Toledo, Columbus, or Norwalk, but since few of them seem to read this blog, I wonder if they'll ever realize just how special they are.

In stark contrast to all this, the Canada geese I've seen in every part of Ohio I've visited seem identical. It's like someone made one goose 50 years ago and all the others are perfect Xerox copies.

Ants have seemed pretty interchangeable as well but the little sweat bees of southeastern Ohio have repeatedly stung me for reasons I just can't fathom. Bees everywhere else have left me alone and the sweat bees of southeastern Ohio don't seem to have had it in for anyone else I've known.

Ummmm, did I mention that another sign of High Summer here is the sudden appearance of rambling entries that almost make me forget the heat?

Consider it mentioned.


  1. We have some black squirrels down by us. I haven't seen them recently though, maybe they moved?

    Hope you're staying cool! I can even hear the cicadas over the drone of my a/c. By the way, are you experiencing a surge of horseflies up there? They seem to be everywhere down here...

  2. I'm sorry you ended up reminded of the heat. Our bugs will very likely be dead in 60 days, which makes going out in the woods to enjoy the colors much more pleasant.
    Here's a cool thought I'm sending your way:
    I'm sure it'll be your forecast eventually. It's mine now.
    Haha. The captcha is puperman. Wasn't he Kevin Smith's anti-hero in Dogma?

  3. We don't have cicadas around here. We don't have red squirrels, either. Nor Sweat Beez. (Sweet Peas?) Heck, we don't even have lightnin' bugs! But we DO have the ubiquitous Canuckian Geese....

    Anyway, having lived in the East, growing up, I have heard cicadas.....