Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 16, 1908. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 43(46): 2-M.

The Chirp of the Cricket Tolls the Summer's End

First Pursuivants of the Approach of the Golden Autumn Time.

Through the Mysterious Alchemy of Nature the Changes Come.

Indisputably this has been an unusually hot summer, and while we still have, at least calendarially, several weeks of the season remaining, the earliest admonitions of approaching autumn are upon us. The higher refrangibility of the lowering sun's says tell us this, as well as does the tang in the atmosphere at eventide and morn, and the changing foliage of the tree and bush. If you will notice the leaves on the cottonwoods—earliest of all, gave perhaps the catalpas to shed their leaves—next to the sun are already flecked with the yellowing hues of departing life, and a dull, hazy gray is marring the universal green of summer's background. The maples, too, along our sidewalks, have begun to profusely drop their serrated leaves, while in the thickets up along the old Mormon river road the pods of the hazel are streaked with russet and the edges of the leaves are withering and curling. A few weeks later, after nature has gotten well at work evolving her changes in the mysterious alchemy of time, the real tingling frosts will come, and they will separate these desiccating pods, and shower down upon the crinkly leaves and dusty grass, those rosewood nuts, so dear to the woods roamer, the holiday kid and the provident fox squirrel. The blood splotched sumach, too, has been shedding its spear-like petals since the close of July, carpeting the dark fence corners and hillside crannies with crimson and scarlet. The autumn flowers, poppy, moccasin and lobelia, are already opening their bright disks amidst the grasses, and that mystic smokiness, a sure forerunner of another season, is thinly shrouding the distant hilltops.

The Tyrian tints of waning summer are no startling event in nature, but they are replete with suggestions. No radical or sudden change follows their perceptibility for a time. The weather is only a trifle hotter and more sultry when the sun rides the zenith, the air only a trifle more lifeless, the dust along the country roads a little deeper and finer, and the general aspect of wood and field a bit duller and dirtier. These sings all tell of the change that is going on. The half hour of the year has struck. Since the petering days of winter all of the wonderful forces of nature, those old and inscrutable, but ever new processes which have been busy under our eyes, have been tending toward the life, growth and increase that have manifested themselves all through the summer months. The long hand has been moving away from 12. But with the fading of the wild rose and the russeting of the hazel burrs, comes that other opposite mutation, not less beautiful when looked upon by appreciative eyes and not less important in the economy of nature, which we call youth, maturity, old age, death and decay; and when we see the maples leaves drifting on the sluggish air we are forcibly reminded that soon the ripened leaves of the whole year will also fall, and with them return to the earth that gave them birth.

As we toll out on the lawn, or sit on the porch in the evening longing for some movement in the heavy air, we hear the trill of the cricket, who, on watch and ward at the doorway of his home, under the steps, the curbing or bordering shrubbery, maintains his monotonous cadence all through the night, repeating the warning given forth in the drifting leaves and the calorsecence of the brightly gleaming stars.

He is good company for the tired business man and weary housewife, that little old-fashioned cricket, and though shrill, his voice has power to sooth. He may seem to be within a few feet of where you sit or toil, and yet the most assiduous search would fail to divulge his actual whereabouts. Though he ventures close to your silent form, he is extremely shy and vigilant, and at the slightest move or sound on your part, he becomes, at least, temporarily silent. Now, too, begins nightly the drowsy undertone of the night watchers in the tree tops, sounding as a distant bass to the crickets high treble; and we hear the sharp rattle of the locust, that dreadful forerunner of war according to boyish legend; and the voices of the earliest katydids, at first only a sleepy, rasping mutter, confidently exchanged between a few orators far apart, but late rising to s shrill chorus from the contentious multitude, who with angry contradiction give each other the lie all through the weird and lengthening night.

Six weeks before the first real tangible frost, so my grand old father told me years and years ago, the first katydids are heard, and if your are interested in this sort of research it will pay you to give heed to this old time assertion.

Again in the actions of our birds we see still another symptom of the passing of the sweet old summer time. The cheery carole of the robin sounds but infrequently upon the heavy air, and rarely do we catch at twilight the liquid note of the oriole. Instead it is the "bezeek! bezeek! bezeek!" of the night hawk or bull bat peregrinating in the darkening vault above. Most of the birds have finished the family cares and turned them their youngsters adrift to shift for themselves. Families of the second brood of redbreasts, with their speckled vests, and as big as the mother bird, may yet occasionally be seen on the lawn disporting themselves in the qauzy shower from the hose's nozzle, or tagging around after the always industrious parent—too tender hearted to compel her lazy offspring to forge for themselves. The melancholy "uck-uck-uck-o-o-o-o" of the rain crow, now and then, during the hot afternoon, is wafted from the involucre of the maples where she tends her tardy brood, and some times a turtle dove, which has wandered in among the houses of the city, is heard complaining from her perch in some adjacent tree. But most birds are silent now, for they are resting and renewing their plumage for the long journey that lies so close before them.

Out along the sloughs' flaggy shores, above the wide marshes of the sandhills, or over the quiet pastures where the cattle serenely feed, the swallows are gathering in whirling hosts. All day long they play about, swinging here and there in wide circles, now high in the air, now so low along the ground that the tips of green-black wings seem to snip the dusty grass blades, in and about the heedless stock, then again up into the cloudless blue. They gather, too, after each aerial sortie, in long rows along the telegraph and telephone wires skirting our highways, and twitter and chatter to each other, until in little companies they volley off into the air again.

The annual swallow parliament is being held. Not all are there, but of the barn, the bank, the cliff and marsh species there is an overflowing contingent, and soon all of them, in one grand winged cloudburst, in the dark hours of the night, will be up, high above the vision of man, and off and gone as completely as if they had been evolved into nothingness, until once more the caressing breezes of May are once again undulating over the budding earth, nearly nine months hence.

And the sportsman, he sees his time coming. The few ducks, that is comparatively few, considering the countless hordes that come down from their polaric summer homes just previous to the first November snows—mallard, teal, spoonbill and widgeon—that breed with us, are now piloting their broods to the best feeding grounds, and the progeny are getting impatient to test the texture of the upper regions, and cause the old duck much annoyance by flopping away on the slightest provocation. Close flying flocks of blackbirds shoot and undulate across the wet meadows; the bobolink has laid aside his gorgeous springtime livery of black and white and buff, and changed to a raiment like the ripening grass, and swings on the stems of the cane and tules, and calls to one another in unmusical tones. The tasseled fluffs are showing on the stalks of the wild rice, where you will build your blind in another month, and the filled heads begin to bow and nod, and will soon scatter their precious grain into the depths below. The flags along the oozy reaches have matured and the stiff brown spikes of the cattails tower up from among their green ribbons, which stream away with every passing breeze. And then, and then, comes the chicken season. Hey! there, Billy, oh, Ray! You, Sam! Is it the gleam of the millennium—these fall days on prairie, lake and marsh, or is it only a return of the joys of old?