Monday, August 08, 2005

Retention Pond in C-Sharp Major

Long after the post office has closed, the last thing we expect is to receive a singing telegram....

Dusk follows us to the post office, waits until I've gotten mail from the box before it darkens into indigo. The day's furnace retreats before evening's humid kiss. Mary stops walking, holds up a wetted fingertip. Yes, she says, we do have a bit of breeze. Our "wind chill" comes from more than our own movement.

I've grown accustomed to the lack of sidewalks. To traffic swinging graceful arcs from one side of the road to the other and back again, accommodating pedestrians and scooters, lawn-care pickups, riding mowers enthroned on trailers in a land without parking spaces. We have moved from a neighborhood of no driveways to one where resident vehicles live off-street -- and visiting vehicles park either on the grass or on the road.

The road turns quiet after dark. Mary and I walk side by side, switching to single file when we see rare headlamps; but the car merely moves to the empty oncoming lane. In the absence of streetlights we pass between yard lanterns, their glows soft and intermittent.

The post office has been closed for hours but PO box access is round-the-clock. We take our night-cooled stroll a mile out from home and a mile back, except for those times when we meander beneath the Big Dipper.

This is one of those times.

We turn southeast and take a larger residential street, its two lanes separated by a tree-lined median. A gentle downslope bottoms out in a trough that floods in heavy rains, retention pond expanding into asphalt-lined bowl. But tonight the sky is clear. Jupiter ogles us as it dips toward the southwest.

Mary asks, "What's that bright star near it?"

I smile up at the Dipper, follow the handle. Arc to Arcturus and speed to...

"Spica," I tell her. "The brightest star in Virgo."

We start hearing the music about then. A multitude of voices -- first in synch, then in syncopation but with steady, solid downbeats. Two notes, then three. Major seconds expanding to major thirds: Do Re ... Do Re Me ....

They grow louder, much louder as we approach the pond where herons and ibises congregate in daylight. Where we've seen swallowtailed kites fly overhead. Now we gaze into a dark abyss, straining to see if any movement breaks through flecks of scant light floating on the water.

The toes of my sneakers touch the grassy mound, and before I know it I am swaying back and forth, gyrating my hips and grinning.

Mary's smile is as big as mine. "This is why jazz was invented in the South," she ventures as the beats move together and apart, the chorus dancing circles around a central voice that I could swear calls Baby ... Baby ... Baby ....

"On warm nights, one can often hear a chorus of sounds made by several species of frogs," says our Audubon Field Guide to Florida. Mainly we seem to hear green treefrogs ("continual cowbell-like quaink, often in chorus, with frogs singing at different pitches"), but perhaps also bronze frogs ("1-2 notes, like a plucked banjo string"). Nasal, explosive calls.

These are not the spring peepers who fall silent at our approach and rev up again after we turn a corner; our audible wonder leaves these performers unperturbed. The occasional car motoring past us doesn't faze them in the least. Engines dwindle in the distance, their brief curtain of noise slipping away until only sassy sweetness remains.

Eventually we tear ourselves away, but their serenade follows us up the hill. I hang onto the voices after they vanish; my perfect pitch is not so perfect any more and suddenly it's very important that I know the key. We head back to where Jupiter dips down, following the uneven beacons of yard lamps until finding the one swathed in red honeysuckle that is ours.

Mary dives for the field guides, I for the pitch pipe. The pond has vibrated overwhelmingly in C-sharp major.

During the day we hear a barking treefrog ratchet the air: "10 loud barks from treetops in rain." Or, in our case, readings of 100 percent humidity with nary a drop. And, we've discovered, 10 is an average. Our neighborhood frog will call 7 times followed by 13, or 15 times followed by 5, performing some esoteric, amphibious arithmetic as he tries to formulate the perfect mating call.


Blogger twila said...

Wow. Y'all really know how to take a walk!

9:43 AM  

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