Country music

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When we have out of state visitors this time of year, I give them two warnings: Obey the speed limits on them crooked and steep roads, and don’t walk around with your mouth open because some little flying thing will zoom in looking for a parking space – flies, wasps, grasshoppers or no-see-ums. I have grown accustomed to striding through spider webs on our front walkway, but just now, getting out of bed when the owls hooting in the woods told me I may as well get up, I was perturbed to walk into a web right there by our bed.

I was cleaning off the back porch recently when something flew out of a pile of old boards. It turned out to be a toad, foraging for bugs decomposing the rotting wood. When my wife watered plants on our kitchen balcony, a bright green tree frog jumped out of one pot onto the rail. For some reason tree frogs like this balcony – they often climb in upper vent windows, singing away. We watched a red squirrel one morning exploring the herbs and flowers. You have never lived until you see a squirrel raise its tail to pee on a porch railing.

We like to drink our coffee in the mornings on a screen porch off our bedroom. Hummingbirds whir about, sampling this flower or that. They really enjoyed the mimosa tree, but its poofy little blooms are all gone now, turned to dangling seed pods that each hope to sprout tiny mimosas. Their current favorites are little maroon tubular blooms of a perennial salvia. This year that garden bore candytuft, iris, daisies, gladioli, dinnerplate hibiscus, a lonely yellow rose, yarrow and lavender coneflowers. There may be some catnip; the only other remaining blossoms are annual periwinkle and marigolds, which do not have enough nectar for hummingbirds. The flights of butterflies are gone too, including the occasional monarch. All signs that summer is fading to a gradual end.

The owls usually tune up about five-thirty, but daylight waits until after six now. Songbirds are less active when it’s hot in the early morning. Cows may be lowing in the distance. Somehow the crickets’ music is soothing, unlike the harsh clattering of cicadas. Some singing from peepers, but we’ll need another heavy rain to get the bullfrogs involved in this symphony. The crows like the mornings, cawing madly as they play tag over the treetops. This spring we had a pair of phoebes nest under the eaves to raise two groups of hatchlings. We only identified them as phoebes by their call: fee-bee, fee-bee.

We drove home late the other night. September is a good month for road kill; the highways are littered with coons, possums, skunks, squirrels and armadillos, the occasional cat, dog, or deer. Our county road is walled in by weeds and vines in the treeline. At night we watch for red eyes in the headlights. We have looked at this spooky TV show called Stranger Things, and imagined some Hollywood screenwriter on a road like ours getting the idea for a horror show.

We are careful, in the daytime, not to run over somebody’s chickens or goats, and it’s an annoyance when dumb cows block the road, chewing their cud and wondering, who do they think they are?

The flip side of that, of course, is when country dwellers go to a big city. All the traffic! Horns honking, and sirens wailing! Street people laid out on the curb. One of my students went to the state fair a few years ago and reported gawking at the towering skyscrapers of Little Rock and, “I never seen so many Negroes in my life!”

It’s nice living in the country. Our surprises are rarely dangerous. A pair of our neighbor’s bulls were munching and pooping under that screen porch a few years ago – we just snuck out quietly to get in the car to go to work. More recently two wild turkeys appeared there, bobbing their heads to some internal music I couldn’t hear. The sounds I do hear are just fine, real country music.

Kirk Ashworth

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