Country diary: The sound of silence in the meadows

Country diary: The sound of silence in the meadows



Aman comes to a point in his life when he finds he has lost his stridulations. I like to joke about it, but I feel a little sadness too.

For last week I was in the rough meadows around derelict glasshouses, bush grass pointing tall, betony and bedstraw in flower.

Grasshoppers and crickets were chirruping all around. And I could not hear them.

I’ve missed crickets and grasshoppers all summer long. It’s not that they have gone under the radar; there is no radar, no aural prompt that draws my eyes to the source. I’ve forgotten to look.

Somewhere close by in the long grass an orthopteran plays scratchy fiddle, raking its hind legs over the fret of veined wings. And that rasp-rasp is loud, but only in my imagination.

Men lose higher frequency sounds as they age – I’m told it begins at the age of eight. Women, it is said, miss out at the other end of the register, but there aren’t too many rumbling elephants or crocodiles in Bedfordshire, so maybe the loss is not so keenly felt.

My wife and then-teenage son used to tip me off when a noctule bat was coming over, shouting in an ultrasonic kind of way. Fellow diarist Phil Gates tells me that his bird app picks up the peeping treecreeper calls that he has never knowingly heard.

The late RSPB CEO Peter Conder once took a group of young ornithologists around the Sandy Lodge woods and asked if there were goldcrests about, for, despite his keen ears, he could no longer detect their wheedling song.

This morning was cricket weather, all blue sky and gentle draughts, so I returned to that place of silence. I dropped on all fours to the quiet earth and grasshoppers mocked me in their abundance, shimmying up blades of grass or springing to spill over the ground.

Three times I walked and squatted, and on the third drop I heard it. Just one lower-frequency grasshopper at its stridulating best. I’ll treasure that moment, for when next summer comes I doubt I’ll hear anything at all.


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This article by Derek Niemann was first published by The Guardian on 23 August 2023. Lead Image: ‘I’ve missed crickets and grasshoppers all summer long.’ Photograph: Malcolm Haines/Alamy.

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