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The Last Cricket

Editor’s Note: We are unlocking this archive piece to celebrate the release of The Book of Bugs, on sale now. 

BLAME IT ON OCTOBER. A nor’easter blows rain for three straight days and the gleam of blackened tree trunks lifts every summer thought from my head. Then one night I find myself by an open window after dark and realize the only sound in the woods behind the house is wind rustling the leaves, the clack of bare branches.

I’ve missed it. Again.

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 Basho¯’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.

It’s easy to think so fancifully when the crickets are going gangbusters. A time of abundance props up the fiction that you’ll always have enough. In September the sun shines on trees full of apples. The first stars of frost on the lawn feel as far off as real stars, wintergreen and blinking. In September, the crickets deliver to me every lost dream of childhood. From the depths of my love and loneliness, the boy I once was emerges again to lie awake all night listening. His insomniac mind conjures impressions from a late ballgame: the smell of cut grass in the outfield around him, the oil darkening the mitt he absently jabs a fist into while waiting for a pitch, the coolness oozing from the deep woods beyond the parking lot. That boy’s parents are young and strong, and time hasn’t grayed their hair and carved lines into their faces. That boy’s grandparents smile and blink and breathe. To have him back, if only for a moment, is a restoration of innocence, the melancholy of which sings to me. I want to rise to the last cricket’s call and inhabit a quiet empty enough to contain my every contradiction.

All the noise I make in this life isn’t mine but rather part of some discordant harmonizing to which, season after season, I hum along. Nothing is inconsequential. Nothing. But somehow in the rush and bustle of my days, I lose the thread. October comes along with its dazzling, razor-edged contrasts—warmth and cold, light and dark, color and gray— and other stories start singing. By the time I remember my intention to listen for the last cricket, the silence is already everywhere. Come the spring, I think, I’ll listen for the first. O