Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

One of these days I’ll read about new research that suggests sleeping with ambient noise causes something bad to happen to our bodies. If this comes about, this will be troubling, because I’ve been sleeping with a box fan in the room for so long that, at this point, I don’t think I’d be able to fall asleep without it.

Ambient noise is so abundant we tend not to notice it until it’s gone. Or until it’s so loud that it’s disruptive.

It was this time last year that I came to know, firsthand, that the noise around us can be a problem. The film crew and I were in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, filming our documentary about the bike trail. We were interviewing a historian in his garden, a beautiful spot atop the mountain full of flowering bushes and leafy greens and butterflies. The interview went on for more than an hour, probably 40 questions’ worth. After that we packed up the camera and audio gear and went on our way, feeling confident that we got what we needed.

Two months later, while editing the interview, we heard the truth about that mountaintop garden. We and all our sophisticated film equipment were no match for the cicadas. Even though our historian was wearing a top-grade microphone clipped just below his collar, his voice was well-nigh eclipsed by the song of the bugs.

The editor tried adjusting things, turning up this and turning down that, and still the cicadas were winning. (And the big cicada invasion was still a year away.)

“Funny, we didn’t see any bugs while we were out there,” I said as the editor poked away at the buttons, trying to fix things.

“Just butterflies,” he said, “and they don’t make any noise”, which is my new reason for loving butterflies best of all.

We ran into the same problem one night this week, when our new documentary brought five men to a campfire in our side yard to talk about their childhoods. We interviewed them for probably a half hour before I finally heard the noise. It had been there the whole time.

“The crickets,” I said to the cameraman.

“I know, they’re loud,” he said.

They were deafening. The woods around us were probably filled with them – mostly male tree crickets who were rubbing legs against wings to get the attention of the female crickets. I’ve read that it only takes a handful of the crickets pitching woo to make all that racket; a few can sound like thousands when they get going. I don’t know how many crickets we had, but they were loud enough that I had to repeat my questions; sometimes the men couldn’t hear me. And to think we didn’t hear the crickets, until they got in the way.

I’ve been living amidst all this sound, and I’ve never seen a cricket out there.

Summer wouldn’t be half as good without the sounds. The thrumming cicadas in the morning and the chirpy crickets at night fill up all the spaces around the sunshine and the stars and the flowers and the campfires. We’d miss that symphony if it wasn’t there, just as I’d miss the box fan if I couldn’t use it when I sleep.

Those cicadas, though, are troublemakers. After trying for hours to correct the audio for the interview, the editor gave up. We headed back to Harpers Ferry to redo the interview with the historian.

We did it indoors.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.

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