It’s a strange and wonderful thing when the first few trickles of (hopefully) imminent monsoon season (like mountains, seemingly predictable weather patterns are well capable of displaying false summits) hit generally fairly parched Gila Country. That joyful cli- matic circumstance is exacerbated by the fact that those first welcome splats of precipita- tion follow what in the Southwest is known as the “Foresummer” — the hottest, driest, windiest (and, in the last couple weeks before the monsoons fully materialize, the muggiest) time of year.
I should mention straight off that, despite whatever stereotypical mental images those not familiar with Gila Country might have (all of which are completely inaccurate), when it rains here, it is truly something to behold, in both relative and absolute terms. My very first night in Silver City, back in July 1976, I was curious why the curbs in downtown are all like 45 feet high. That very night, I received an an- swer, as the heavens opened up and before I could even begin to ponder the notion of what to me at that time was a new concept called a “flash flood,” Bullard Street suddenly became the first Class-4 main drag I had ever seen. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as I witnessed scads of household appliances, herds of mooing livestock, uprooted cotton- woods, Ford pick-up trucks, women, children & wheelchair-bound old people and barrels of perfectly good whiskey all being swept down the street to their assured doom in full view of the entire town. (OK, that may be slightly hyperbolic.)
In all my years living in the Colorado High Country, only a few times did I ever witness a rainstorm that approaches the level of ferocity of the average downpour in Southwest New Mexico. In the High Country, you sit there thinking, as thunder’s reverberating all around you, how weird it is to be up as high as the womb of lightning. Because of the altitude, you get the feeling that you are a visitor to the realm of storms, and, therefore, whatever storm-related fate might befall you, you basi- cally deserve it, like, if you weren’t living and/ or recreating up higher than people were ever meant to be, maybe you wouldn’t have got- ten zapped. In these parts, the storms come down to street level, as through they are purposefully, almost carnivorously, stalking the good folk of our humble hamlet. I mean, here we are, sitting on our front porches, smok- ing a bowl and sipping a beer, when, out of the blue, here comes an Old-Testament-like monsoonal weather front, salivating, licking its chops, looking for an otherwise innocent drunk person to scare the living shit out of and maybe even kill. And here’s another dif- ference between High Country monsoonal weather patterns and those found in Gila Country: In the mountains, storm fronts almost always arrive on the scene from the West; hereabouts, they literally come from all directions, and sometimes from several directions at once, just to keep us on our toes. (This would stem from our closeness to the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.) In Gila Country, storms are sneaky bastards, ready to ambush the unwary, which pretty much includes most of us most of the time. But, as my buddy Pedro is wont to say, “At least they are warm killer tempests” — which is true enough; here you can actually comfortably stand out in the rain and not die from hypothermia in a matter of minutes, a reality that does not in and of itself mitigate the “killer” component of Pedro’s observation.
But, at the same time, the instant that first drop of rain impacts long-desiccated terra firma, the entire area becomes verdancy incarnate. Everything inclined to turn green does that, in about 15 minutes, in a National- Geographic-special, time-lapse-photography sorta way. Cactus-covered hillsides suddenly look like postcards from Ireland. Riparian zones become so lush that they bear more re- semblance to Central America than the image most folks have of southern New Mexico. And crickets and frogs spring to life and add their vocalizations to a natural symphony that also includes cicadas the size of house cats and the tweetings of the 200-some-odd bird species that call Gila Country home.
As I was lying there in bed the first night after the monsoon rains came this year, lis- tening, through no choice of my own, to the millions of chirping crickets and croaking frogs that were apparently now living not only in my yard, but right under my bedroom window, I could not help but be impressed with every aspect of Nature that has some- how found a way to adapt to harsh environ- mental circumstances. I wondered how all these critters manage to survive the nine or 10 months of the year when local precipita- tion is anything but guaranteed.
By the second night, I was thinking that, in addition to playing their part in the sym- phony of life, the millions of chirping crickets and croaking frogs now living directly under my bedroom window were also helping to drown out the usual nocturnal auditory emis- sions that define life in any New Mexico town: revving choppers, emergency vehicle sirens, firecrackers, gunfire, barking curs and loud rap music emanating from low-riders with faulty exhaust systems.
By the third night, though, I found myself lying there trying to figure out a way to get those aforementioned millions of chirping crickets and croaking frogs to SHUT THE HELL UP so I could get at least a little bit of shut-eye. I found myself thinking, in between mentally concocting several dozen sure-fire methods for torturing crickets and frogs, that I would happily trade straight up the otherwise splendid components and results of monsoon season for a world sans chirp- ing and croaking, even if that meant watch- ing Gila Country wither away to a degree of Sahara-like dryness that it came to serve as a poster child for both desertification and Global Warming. Fecundity, be damned! The pox on the admirable adaptability of Nature! Screw Nature!
One of the main ecological features of a place that experiences true monsoonal weather patterns is that just about every creature — from pond slime pretty much up my degenerate drinking buddies — has to fit the entire procreative process into a single season, before things start to dry out again and everyone just finds a cool, dark corner to occupy for the next three seasons. Ergo: Since the chirpings and croakings of the crickets and frogs are unabashed mating calls (yes, I watch The Discovery Channel), those par- ticular creatures, of course, have little choice but to chirp and croak their fool heads off, no matter that yours truly is trying mightily to sleep off his latest beer-related indiscre- tions. Even though I often find myself this time of year perusing the web for products like “Crickets Be Gone!” and “Frogs Away!” I fully understand their situation, having bel- lowed out a mating call or two in my time, as well. Though I often find myself pondering the admittedly very un-environmentalist con- cept of eradicating every one of those chirping and croaking little buggers within earshot of my bed, I at least grok the notion of begging for sex. Thus, I make no effort to act upon my species-specific genocidal fantasies.
Toward first light, just as the crickets and frogs were handing the Fayhee-irritation ba- ton over to the cicadas and birds, my sleep-de- prived, delirious mind began to drift toward, as it often does, the subject of zoolinguistics (thanks to my buddy Stephen Buhner for straight-faced laying that word on me, as I was drinking beer and wondering aloud what on earth one calls the study of non-human verbal communication). I got to thinking about what it is those crickets and frogs are actually saying when they chirp and croak. OK, we know, as I said before, that they are “mat- ing calls.” And we know, or at least I think we know, that it’s mainly the guy crickets and frogs doing the calling, a grim reality that has made its way clear to the top of the evolution- ary ladder, to the very watering holes I visit. But what would their outwardly monotonous chirpings and croakings translate to, say, in a mountain-town bar? To the human ear, those chirpings and croakings seem to be the very definition of repetition — the exact same noise over (midnight, unable to fall asleep) and over (2 a.m., still wide awake) and over (4 a.m., thinking again of hunting down a 55-gallon barrel of “Crickets Be Gone!), ad infinitum (fuck it, time to get up).
By and large, those chirpings and croakings are either mono- or bi-syllabic. So, as far as my 3 a.m. somnolent lizard brain thought process can tell, those male crickets and frogs are either saying, “Snatch,” or else, when they add in that romantic, albeit unvaried, second syllable, they might be saying “Snatch, please!” Or “Snatch, now!” Or perhaps, within those one or two lower-life-form syllables, there might be enough in the way of inflection that, to the ear of a potentially receptive female cricket or frog, the repetitive chirpings and croakings amount to, “Hey, baby, I’ve got the biggest sausage in all of Fayhee’s yard!”
But, perhaps, the human ear is simply unatuned to what’s really being said. Perhaps those crickets and frogs are reciting lyrical love poems in Cricket-ese and Indo-Frog that would rival a Shakespearean sonnet. Maybe what horny female crickets and frogs hear are not simple chirpings and croakings (“Snatch, now!”), but, rather, a cricket or frog Frank Sinatra crooning “Strangers in the Night.”
(My friend Julie thinks that the crickets and frogs are saying nothing more than “Wake up!” — and, since she is a card-carrying Earth Goddess-type, she probably speaks several dialects of both Cricket-ese and Indo-Frog. )
Thing is, it’s my guess that each species has its own vocal equivalent of a cricket’s chirping for nookie or a frog’s contention that he has the biggest sausage in the entire yard. Bull elks bugle, cats yowl and middle-class white guys on cruises grunt loudly while try- ing to dance the limbo after seven margaritas. And, once your mind starts wandering in that direction (that would be at 4:17 a.m.), there’s no way on earth to apply the brakes.
Though many young people might con- sider this some sort of urban legend, thirty years ago, guys in bars actually did ask women, by way of an opening conversational salvo (“chirp”), what their sign was. (Best response I ever heard to that lame interrogative (and I stress this was not pointed in my direction specifically, though it’s my guess it was point- ed to all males of the species in general) was, “Stop.” I’d like to imagine that cricket and frog females exercise similar discretion, that they don’t fall for any ol’ chirp or croak.) I remem- ber sitting in a now-defunct Colorado High Country imbibery, listening to the comely barkeep, who told me that, for the ninth time that very evening, some young buck newbie said to her, “We ought to go skiing sometime.” (“Croak.”) “Don’t these assholes have the ability to come up with anything better than that?” she fumed, leading me to believe that the problem was not that these guys were trying to pick her up, but, rather, that they were using stale lines. “Uh, we ought to go, uh, hiking sometime!” I responded (I thought wittily!), to no avail. (I considered mentioning something about having the biggest sausage in the yard, but, for once, was waylaid by some very uncharacteristic discretion that somehow percolated its way to my usually very uninhibited vocal chords.)
There’s a certain mountain bar that I’ve been in, shall we say, more than once. But almost all of my more-than-once visits have occurred during happy hour time; rarely have I been in that bar after 10 p.m., when the crowd becomes decidedly less ancient. Well, one night, I happened to be in the bar much later than usual, and I pointed my ears toward the various attempts at croaking and chirping on the part of the young males. The main syllables I discerned were, “Dude” (a particularly weird choice of chirp when pointed towards a female) and a “Beavis and Butthead”-type snicker, a flaccid “heh heh” that followed whatever the previous sentence was.
“My mother was just in a car crash.” “Heh heh.” And, since many of these young men were seemingly having far better luck at drawing the attention of the proximate females than most of my more loquacious happy-hour- drinking chums, I came to understand that, when it comes to attracting members of the opposite sex who are in their prime breed- ing years, maybe mono- and bi-syllables are indeed where it’s at.
For all I know, chirping frogs and croaking crickets — wait! it’s the other way around! — might get laid more than all my mountain amigos combined, which, now that I think about it, is nothing really to hang your evolutionary hat on. “But, do they ever find true love? Do they maintain lifelong relationships?” my now very drunk buddy Pedro asked when I bounced all this silliness off him.
“I don’t think that’s what crickets and frogs are really looking for,” I responded, like I’m the goddamned Dr. Phil of rutting and in-heat insects and amphibians. “Well, maybe the older crickets and frogs,” I added.
“Yeah, but, by that time, it’s the female frogs and crickets who are doing the chirping and croaking,” Pedro (three times divorced, I should point out) said, as I looked around the bar and noticed that the only female (probably for miles) left inside the bar was the well-worn bartender, and she definitely looked liked, if she never heard another chirp or croak the rest of her life, that would be just fine with her. (Pedro had shortly before chased off the last two female customers with a real successful chirp: “If you want to buy me a drink, I’ll let you.”) “And all the older male crickets and frogs are now wondering if it was all worth it, if they ought to have just kept their mouths shut in the first place,” Pedro sighed, to his mostly empty glass.
Hours later, as I lay there in bed, bombarded by the chirpings and croakings of a million aroused crickets and frogs, with the latest batch of monsoonal storm clouds gath- ering over Gila Country, I thought to myself,
“Get it while you can, boys, for soon you will find yourself drinking at happy hour instead of pulling all-nighters!”
Chirp!!!! Croak ……. Heh heh.
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