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Too small to be heard (11/09/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Every summer our four lilac bushes have such few meager blooms that they don’t even make a decent bouquet. Now, in autumn, their leaves have turned deep violet, lime green, and striking mauve, and I was moved to pick a bunch. In spring, the voice of fall, likely too small to be heard, hadn’t shared its secret.

The first time I read this I made it my motto: “Every day is a good day; some are just better than others.” I admit, there may be an occasional day when the good stuff is too small to be heard. Today is picture perfect! It’s a time for ladybugs, frost on the pumpkin, orange trash bags, and colorful whirlwinds of rustling leaves.

As I emptied the washer in the laundry room, I spotted a baby cricket inching along the floor against the wall. I couldn’t just ignore it, so finally I did what any self-respecting, responsible housewife would do; I took a dryer sheet and wrapped it around its tiny body. I couldn’t bring myself to squeeze.

Why should an innocent creature such as this be crushed to death for simply being there? I noted that its thread-like legs were still kicking. I gently carried my vulnerable houseguest up the stairs to the deck door, assuring it that I wouldn’t hurt him (her?) and carefully set it on the deck floor. Off it crept, likely wary of this giant creature overshadowing its path to freedom. When I chanced a glance later, my bug pal seemed to be hung up between two floorboards. A brisk nudge took care of it and that was the last I saw of Jiminy Cricket. His expression of gratitude must have been too small to be heard.

I once read that the most enlightening thing one can say to a child is “oh, look!” I guess that depends on where you happen to be looking, but let’s think positive! That same glorious day, I glanced out the kitchen window overlooking my neighbor Sheila’s outdoor playground, where her day care children were bouncing and shrieking. What a joy!

One of the older boys had apparently spotted something alive by a big stone in the flower garden. His hand jerked back and his eyes seemed glued. A girl joined him. Kneeling down on her pretty dress, she began digging aggressively under the stone with her bare hands.

Noting the excitement, two more girls ran over. The smallest of the bunch, in a no-nonsense sweep of her hand, scooped up what appeared to be a toad or a frog. The boy cowered at a safe distance, his brief moment of fear too small to be heard.

I thought of one of many stories the late Mel Ellis told in his nature chronicle “The Land, Always the Land.” Ellis (1912–1984) resided with his family on a wildlife haven he created with five spring-fed ponds on fifteen acres in the southeastern Wisconsin village of Big Bend, to be preserved for future generations.

It was Ellis’ habit to hoard a bit of August to give him pleasure in the dormant winter months. Of crickets he wrote, “…I turn a log, and as they scamper, I tenderly palm them, one by one, glistening black singers, and carry a score or more to the house, so there will be survivors enough for a small insect orchestra. Should they eat some small pieces of carpet, or a hole in a Pendleton jacket, I will consider that but small payment for keeping, with syncopated song, the beat of summer.” That’s Mel!

To many, insects are an annoyance, gross things to be swatted or zapped, creatures insignificant and too small to be heard…except by those with their ears tuned to the mystical music of each intricate morsel of creation.

It’s been rejuvenating to eavesdrop on Sheila’s day care. No living thing is too small to be heard if we pay attention. A child’s curiosity may reverberate the loudest of all. Sing along.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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