Katydids and Heat Lightning

"Katydids and Heat Lightning" reading and photographs by Robert Towe
From my nature journal: July 15: After three dry weeks, two days of drenching rain soak the warm green land. Vines, wildflowers, weeds, and millions of blades and leaves cover the planet with luxuriant robes, woven in the spell of a bronzed sun and secret summer nights chanting with a thousand insects. Now the earth is lush with layers of chlorophyll converting raw sunlight into countless shapes of living plants. Forests flicker the tall sun, the silvery thunder wind. A hundred shades of green glisten with hot sun-stillness, ripple with storm shadows.

Mid-summer gives us certain fragrances, colors and sounds, and is a season in itself, distinct from the complex of sensations, forms and feelings that define early and late-summer. The flowery humid heat deepens each day. Life has a certain languid urgency as we enter “the Dog Days”.

This is the very height of summer in the turning of the natural year. July, with its steamy green sultriness and overgrown thickets is the antithesis of January’s hard blue cold, barrenness and frost. In a Parisian straw hat Monet mixed bright pastels evoking lilies, summer pools and parasols. By contrast, Wyeth built a wood fire in his studio, wore sweaters woven of Maine wool. With sparse egg-tempuras, ground-earth pigments and thin brushes he conjured the spirit of autumn, painted sparse, sharp-edged winter fields and withered faces.

July 11: I walk out into the vibrant darkness, stand still, and listen. Through thick mists, the stars of high summer---Vega, Deneb, Altair---are barely visible, forever silent, burning unknowably far. But somewhere deep in shadows, this night the black forest rattles the first few Katydids of late-summer. I listened, but did not hear them last night. I remember the same hypnotic reverberations from my childhood summers, half-afraid of that wild reptilian sound, mesmerized with wondering. Every year, the 3-syllable electric lyric is the song of late summer, persistently vibrating through our open windows, filling our rooms. Even as we toss and dream under thin sheets, the mantra constantly insists: “time is ticking, sing your song, love deeply, bear fruit, make seed, another summer of life is passing”.

Across the northern sky tonight a silent light-show flickers in concert with the pulsing stridulations of Katydids, glimmering dim violet light. For years, I have heard this warm-night electricity referred to as “heat lightning”, as if it were merely produced by hot nights. Not so, according to meteorologists. Those silent flashes are born in distant thunderstorms, up to a hundred miles away, much too far for the sound of thunder to reach us. Completing the mid summer light show, the last fireflies of early summer twinkle above the fields, glowing across the soft darkness like slow, living meteors.