August 19, 2016
From the pine cricket (matsumushi), whose call is thought to sound like, “Chin-chiro-chin-chiro Chin-chiro-rin,” to the bell cricket (suzumushi), whose call is rendered “Rin-rin-rin-rin Riin-rin,” to the everyday cricket (kôrogi in present-day Japanese, and kirigirisui in pre-modern) that cries, “Kirikirikirikiri,” Japanese culture has always paid loving attention to the cries of crickets. In traditional Japanese poetry, both waka and haiku, crickets are an appropriate seasonal topic from very early autumn–which is late summer by a Western sense of season–to the beginning of winter, when a few surviving crickets are likely to make their way indoors to some snug warm spot. Crickets are associated among other things with fall, with night, with song, with sobbing, and–because they do not winter over–with approaching death.
It is now the middle of August in central Maine and the field crickets are beginning to sing in earnest. Cricket cries are not vocalizations. The sound is created when a male cricket rubs a section of its two wings back and forth against each other—a ridged scraper surface on a nubbly file surface —producing a resonance designed to attract a mate. This is called stridulation, and it is how crickets “cry” on both sides of the Pacific.
Having grown-up in an Anglophone environment, I hear the field cricket cries in Maine pretty much as an attractive series of chirps. (I’m sure Japanese ears would hear something much more articulated, a wonderful pattern of chins and chiris.) The gentle pathos of the traditional associations from Japanese poetry is with me as I listen, but something about the beauty of this time of year in Maine—the warm, sun-struck days, cooler nights, and sense of clarity the late-summer drop in humidity bestows on everything—lets me hear the crickets here with a touch of joy.
Under the leaning
apple tree, in deep cool shade,
one vibrating heart
This is a female cricket so her wings cannot “chirp,”
but she and her fellow females are the reason for the chirping.