we’re ankle-deep in october already, and the woods and the skies and the last vestige of garden are enmeshed in the verbs of autumn: gilding, disrobing, graying, withering.
while the world all around is exulting in the yin and yang of the seasonal shift, lurching from summer to winter, hewing the razor’s edge of autumnal juxtaposition — the last vestige of bone-baking warmth to the goosebumps of dawn’s early chill — while the chipmunks are making like there’s an acorn-stuffing contest, and he with the bulgingest cheeks wins, and the chatter of sparrows rises some days to a deafening chorus, the last of the summer’s songs have vanished.
and i didn’t notice till now.
the blanket of cricket song, a rising crescendo that all but tucked me into bed each summer’s night, it’s stilled. silenced. taken away, tucked on a shelf somewhere, awaiting the heat of next august.
the last of the cicadas’ 24-hour love song for survival. it’s gone too. snuffed out. it too rose to a deafening roar, and then with the flick of a switch that i didn’t bother to witness, it melted away.
now, when you open your windows at night, there’s little to hear save for the possums knocking over the watering can. or the night winds rustling the leaves before they loose from the limbs.
what with all the commotion — of the world, of the news, of the worry — i didn’t notice the absence till i stumbled into the thoughts of someone who’s paying closer attention.
sacred attention, i’d call it, a religion i aim to practice.
i read these words, and felt the ache in my chest:
My intention every year is to listen for the last cricket, the explosion of silence after its ridged wings have struck their final chirp. I imagine it as somehow akin to Bashō’s temple bell whose sound, after the bell has stopped ringing, comes pouring out of the flowers. I have no reason for wanting to mark the occasion other than a poetic temperament and a feeling that the mindfulness required of such a task is its own reward.
The idea usually arrives in September when the crickets are at their most frantic. I toy with the thought of camping out the night it seems likely they’ll stop. I imagine myself keenly attuned to the hypnotic lull, aware that if I fall asleep, even for a moment, I could miss it. The novelty appeals to me. The invention of such an inconsequential drama. It would make no difference to anyone whether I succeeded, or if it took me years to accomplish. The achievement would be mine alone. Sometimes to up the ante, I imagine decades of failed attempts until maybe one night—when I’m an old man, stumbling, bearded, blind, bereft of all hope—a Zen-like oneness with the woods sets in and from nearby, under the bark of a rotten log, I hear the teeth of a cricket wing crackling the air, and listen, knowingly, as the world resolves itself in silence.Steve Edwards, “The Last Cricket,” Orion Magazine, Autumn 2020
mr. edwards’ elegy to the cricket song made me think of all else that i’d missed. it seemed an exercise that drew me — and maybe you — into a necessary meditation. an exercise in paying attention, for this is our one sweet moment to clasp our gaze, and our listening, on the beauties offered up in this one ephemeral whirl around the blazing star.
it’s a canticle worth our attention.
have you noticed…
*the moon gliding across the sky, still clinging to its post as the sun comes along, both sky lights sharing heaven’s dome?
*the stars turning on, any one particular night?
*the moment when God hauled out his paint set and brushes, and the first leaf turned amber or garnet or the color of pumpkins?
*did you happen to catch the river of monarchs riding the winds, flapping their stained-glass wings as if their life depended on it — because it did?
*did you stare into the indigo darkness, into the etched silhouette of what looked like endless punctuation marks crossing the moon, the night the tens of millions of birdsongs flew overhead, miles and miles into their autumnal sweep southward?
*have you paused in genuflection when the chevron of geese called out from the heavens with their spine-tingling minor-key cries?
*have you watched the sparrows upholstering their wintry homes with blades of dried grasses and tufts of runaway cotton?
*have you found where the cardinal sleeps in winter?
it’s all the wonderment out our window, in the woods, in the world where we’re not looking. and all it asks is that we notice. that we pay quiet and unbroken attention.
it’s all we need some mornings to remind us the world is still intact. to remind us we’re safe in the bosom of this holy and most sacred earth. our ears pressed against its soft chest and the heartbeat of the One who keeps it working.
what wonderments have you noticed, from the autumnal litany above, or from the zillions of moments i’ve not even mentioned?
p.s. my sweet boy is still on the mend. slowly, slowly. tray by tray of home-cooked mac-n-cheese, bread pudding, applesauce and water bottles by the case. slow walks around the block. long interludes of napping in the quiet of leafy suburbia. it’s all aiming to get him back to college before the already abbreviated semester lurches to an end. thank you, so much, for your love and your care, and your prayers. xoxox (p.s.s. i was a wee bit late here this morning, because my friend, the patient, beckoned, and the computer was playing all sorts of tricks….)