In last Sunday’s New York Times (September 23), in her wonderful article, “A Little Night Music,” Diane Ackerman contemplates the chorus of katydids, crickets, grasshoppers and cicadas whose evening serenade from backyards and fields in temperate zones this time of year reaches almost to a roar. I suppose I could have guessed what drives all the buzzing and clicking, but as Ackerman points out, we humans are quite content hearing the dramatic sound without seeing what all those insects are actually doing out there. “The males do all the serenading, lustful for females, each of whom waits in the dark loins of the night…. They haven’t much time for dalliance before the first heart-stopping frost.”
This is evocative information. It turns the late summer evenings into a second spring. May and June surge with color, fragrance, green growth—all steps toward renewed life and regeneration. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin emphasizes what we humans with our few children lose sight of: the huge number of offspring that plants and most animals produce every year so that a few will survive the intense competition for light, water, and food. Now, in early autumn, as in spring, I witness the same frenzy for new life—a lot of new life, since each mating female will produce 100 eggs or more.
The seductive cicadas, katydid, crickets and grasshoppers have been filling the summer nights this way for 300 million years. I can’t picture all that time in any way I can hang on to easily. But I can feel the force of songs that have been handed down through 300 million approaching winters.