A Summer Symphony: Cicadas and Katydids

Dora Farmer Web

One of my many goals of retirement was to become a nature writer, but I doubt if I’ll ever write anything comparable to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Like Annie, I, too, have a deep visceral need to fully experience nature in every way possible. I find myself constantly drawn to the out of doors during all of the seasons, but I feel this sensory pull strongest during summer. Whether it’s visiting my vegetable garden, checking to see which of my flowers have recently bloomed or just quietly sitting on a bench up under our old dogwood tree, nature puts my soul at peace.

During the days of summer as a young child, I gathered rollypollies, earthworms, discarded wings of butterflies, colorful bird feathers and anything else I could stuff into my pockets. I still remain a collector of interesting textures and shapes ranging from recently discovering an abandoned wren nest to coming upon the carcass of a magnificent male Monarch butterfly.

Oh…those summer nights. There is nothing more enjoyable during the summer evenings than listening to the musical voices of our native cicadas and katydids. Late one afternoon, my husband, another nature lover, asked me to take a walk and participate in a ritual he simply called “the transition.” After walking down to the creek that runs through our property, we sat down on an old wooden bench and listened to the sounds of the cicadas which were coming from the fields and trees in front of us. The time of day was that ever so fleeting moment between sundown and dusk. As we sat listening to the wee-ooo-wee-ooo of the cicadas constant droning, there slowly developed a unique and dramatic pause in this insect symphony. The silence was immediately taken up with the second movement of the symphony as another insect began singing. This time the katydids took up the adagio with their slower melody. Now the sound seemed to have shifted from in front us to up behind us in the mountains, the wooded area thick with hardwood trees: oaks, poplars, walnuts, and hickories.

This was the transition Russ wanted me to witness. This ever so subtle shift of sounds from the daytime noises to the nighttime ones grew as one katydid was joined by another then another, two becoming four with four becoming eight until finally the sound had grown in mass and volume. The sounds of the katydids were harsh and burry resonating something like “ch-ch” or “ch-ch-ch.” These phrases were repeated about once a second with the rhythm suggesting the insect’s name, ka-ty, ka-ty-did, ka-ty, ka-ty-did. These were dramatically different from the wee-ooo-wee-ooo-wee-ooo of the cicadas. With the sounds of the katydids almost at a roar, we looked up at the night sky and shivered as a cool breeze caressed us while we walked through the field back toward our house.

Living in an area with a wooded area close to flatland offers you the perfect place to hear nature’s nighttime transition; you might even be able to experience this within town.