Rainmaker, Down, Summer Dirge
I don’t forget the heat that comes in July and August. I remember it now from one winter to the next though it took many years of practice. It is not the fact of it that one forgets now, it is the relentlessness. The cicada voices building in early July, to become a solid wall of sound by midmorning in later July. The separate voices of species or individual singers massing into the warbling “reeeeeeeeeeeeee.” Lyric and Dusk-singing, Robinson’s and Dogday, these are not the great emergences of 13 or 15 year cyclics, these are our yearly partners in the heat. Three or four years in the ground, overlapping for our year after year countdown into the aging ears that eventually strain to know that the sound is just still there, a shimmer on the chest and the hairs of the neck. I still meet people now who don’t even know what you are talking about when you mention cicadas.
In the evenings the die down of sound merges and gives way to the Katydids. And in the deep summer in the evening in my woods there is little room for any other sound. Owls talking in the swamp must but dream of communicating with another of their own kind or else talk directly into the lover owl’s ear nearly branch-to-branch, talon-to-talon inside the twilight of Katydid bravado that winds and grates all night. Among the brash Katys you can shout at the stars to no avail. You can tell yourself that shouting at the stars at other times actually gets their attention. You can tell yourself that Rigel and Betelgeuse ignore you only because they cannot hear you above the din. You can tell yourself anything you like.
One brings up the radar, in the modern world. You go inside under the fans to the computer and stare at the Arkansas county layout looking for the hotspots, the lottery rain. Come on uplift. Come on great billowing clash. You stare at the skyview of the land of char and wither. And you wonder at the luck of Malvern or Drasco one day, Benton and Perryville the next. Red angry circles flair and die sometimes that are just ten miles across. You can imagine the undersides of these tiny screen blips. You remember driving in summer and watching the east bound lane getting wet while the west bounders stared through dusty windshields pelted with nothing but gnats and flies.
I keep black seed out in the heat now. I don’t know what made me change my ways. But once I had seen the chickadees coming all summer, taking the sunflower seeds to their hickory branches to pound them out, I couldn't stop myself, I just kept filling it. They speak to me when it is empty in the mornings. They make a different chatter to get my attention. I swear. And no matter how silent it may be otherwise, titmousewise, birdwise in general, other than the white noise of cicadation (if that may be verbed), I have a guilt now from chickadee neediness and walk to the seed feeder when they speak to me, whenever I can see all the way through the capped feeder glass. It is like the little birds talk to me about my failures. Like I needed any other order of life talking to me about my failures.
They also come to the sprinklers, my daily duty in summer. We are a slave to our flora. You put the misting circular sprinkler near the tallest butterfly bush, near the tile coated birdbath that is the chickadee favorite and they come to perch and wash. They flutter out into the spray and sit on the butterfly bush branches and shimmy and shake, sometimes four or five of them at once. I have no way of expressing how much this means to me some mornings. Or the chortle of the bluebirds that come each afternoon to the copper birdbath. I try to keep it filled with clear cold water in the afternoons just for them. They sneak down into the buckeye branches, wary of humans in general, and come only to this one birdbath. We keep about five birdbaths out front which the birds use mostly for drink. I don’t recall anybird actually bathing in them. The baths also provide water for wasps and bees and I have even seen a robber fly taking water in one. On several of the bowls of water, Cope’s Gray Treefrog juveniles have taken up residence. Most of the time they seem to be half in and half out of the water’s edge. At night they prowl nearby taking insects in order to grow fatter and froggier for the late summer I hope. One frog jumps out of the bath as I spray it, jumps back in when I stop. Out again, in again, I laugh. What rain is this that stutters like code?
The cuckoos seem hesitant in the deepest heat to make their full call. Too exhausting to do the long roll, they just seem to “quoooh quooh quooh” to make themselves known. I am cuckoo, they seem to say, and I am very, very tired. Hear me anyway. Now and then the long tailed silhouette of one will track across the yard and make the sound from a new place there or there. They are near enough to make themselves known, to overcall the great white-noise din of cicadas.
And, of course, also in the great heat comes the hummingbirds. My other solemn summer duty. I have spent more time pondering feeders and buying feeders and suncovers and ant guards and hanging hooks and poles than perhaps is healthy for a single human. My blown glass feeders now ranking among my total possessions up there with some of my books. If I had to fill the U-Haul right now, a box of hummer gear would go. The rest would be books and music, a computer full of photos, I would stuff underwear and shirts inside the book box gaps. I would wear my best boots and cram other shoe gear beneath a seat. I cannot reach the level of Bob in Alabama. 50, 60 feeders at once, gallons a day, so I cherish and choose. I would need give up all else. I understand the will and the why though.
Endlessly watching the hummer birds, I wonder why I am not, when I am trapped in the office in July. I hang the feeders strategically in the front yard off the porch, where from my specific chair, I can see them all. The more you have hanging, the more clusters of divebombers and greedy zing-zingers you have. No one bird can guard them all, though I still laugh out loud at the futile attempts to do so, at the bird that comes up purposefully through the cover of shrubbery to sneak into a slot. As long as she just sits and feeds, the vigilant male on the butterfly bush is unaware. She can turn her head carefully; she can eye a passing wasp. But if she lifts and hovers in the air, the smack can be audible. I have seen birds hit the leaves before they recover. The air standoff, tails fanned, beak to beak. The high speed retreat into somewhere invisible in the pines. Neediness, aerobatically drawn. I cannot turn away.
Truly in the greatest heat, one understands the rainmaker’s world. Itinerant magicians with their rituals that speak to Gods or stars or perhaps directly to the great atmospheric lottery itself. Could it just be random rumplings of the world wrapped globe? I know not which or why. I wonder if I missed my calling. I dream of elaborate dealings with the unpredictable sky. I could take a cuckoo with a hand made arrow and drip its blood in a circle of stones. Surely such things have a power? Sing towards the summer air with a fresh coyote heart in my palm. Isn’t that the way of man? Who shall get in the way of his needs? I think I would rather just take my chances.
And when the rain did come, recently, unexpectedly, with shadows and breezes, the cicadas stopped. A Barred Owl called across the road and some Barred matron called in the distance. No cuckoos died when the darkness fell, though they cried to each other east and west as the rumbles spoke up above them out to the south. In the sheets of rain the temperature dove down close to something comfortable, October-like air blasting from the cumulus machine above us. The trees rattled with rain, the birdbaths quivered with their great open mouths taking it in. Somewhere the bluebirds sheltered or sang inside the downfall. You take off your shirt and walk out. You watch the rain patter off the feeder sunshades. You watch the hummers themselves try and maneuver through raindrops that are equivalent in their world to a stoning with baseballs. Dragonflies hurry under the creeper leaves. A treefrog tries a voice against all that bangs down on his world.
And then steam is rising. The world gone bright again. The firing here and there of the cicadas once more, like the cylinders in the engine that brings back the heat. A kite wheels by in dizzy blue sky, tree tops moving. The calculation realized: more summer ahead than summer behind. We will make it, wet or dry, you say towards someone. You say it aloud. Not for the stars or the neighbors, though. Not for the Rainmaker. He is down somewhere close, no doubt drunk on success. On his back in the mud, his hands are bloody, and staring hard into his sticky red palms, he cannot for the life of him remember why.