Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crickets chirping: That sweet, sad sound of summer's end

NOTE (added July 22, 2015):  My blog stats show that people keep getting here by searching for pages about crickets chirping in spring.  Crickets do not not chirp then, because they do not yet have their wings to make the sound.  So if you are hearing high-pitched chirpy sounds at night, it is most likely you are hearing Spring Peeper frogs or some similar species.  These make one of the first night sounds in early spring.  Read below about how and when crickets do chirp.

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I heard my first cricket chirp of the season last night.  I love this sound, but I always feel a pang of sadness as well, because it signals the beginning of the end of summer.  Here in Minnesota, the chirping usually starts in mid-August, but is a bit early this year, perhaps because of the unusually warm weather.   Hearing crickets early does not necessarily signal an early winter, because warm weather can speed up the life cycle of these insects.

Adult male field cricket
(courtesy of
Of course, crickets don't really know in a conscious way that fall is coming.  The reason they don't chirp earlier is that they don't yet have the proper equipment to make the sound.   Crickets go through a life cycle called direct development:  egg, immature stage, adult.

When they hatch from their eggs in spring, the tiny hatchlings already look like crickets, but do not yet have their wings.  As they grow, they shed their skins several times until they get wings in the last, adult stage.

And it is the wings that the male cricket rubs together to make his chirps.  (Common folklore has him rubbing his legs together, but that is not correct.)  You can get an approximation of the temperature in Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds, then add 40. The reason this works is because crickets, being cold-blooded creatures, are more active on warm nights than chilly ones.

The adult female cricket also has wings, but they are smooth and do not have the ridges that the male rubs to make the chirp, so she does not sing.  This is one way you can tell an adult male from a female.  You can also tell a female by the long stiff ovipositor extending from the tip of her abdomen, which she uses to lay her eggs in the ground in late summer or fall.  The adult crickets die off with the coming of winter, and the eggs hatch in the spring to produce a new generation.

In China and other Asian countries, crickets are considered good luck, and are often kept for pets in specially-designed cages.   Some European traditions hold that a cricket chirping in the house is a sign of future prosperity.  (I sure wish this one were true!)  When I was a child, I kept crickets in a terrarium in my room and enjoyed hearing them sing at night.   They ate vegetable trimmings (especially cukes and tomatoes) and often lived through the winter (which would not happen in the wild here.  Crickets die with the frost and their offspring winter over as eggs.)  Some of the modern "bug cages" now available would probably work just as well.  Just be sure to take good care of your crickets, the same as you would with any other companion animal.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On rainfall and creating vessels for the "divine outpouring"

There are many places in the Hebrew Scriptures which compare God's blessings to rain, such as:

For I (God) will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams in the dry ground.  I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.  (Isaiah 44:3)

Raindrops photo by Linda F. Palmer,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
There are also many references in kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy about creating vessels (kaylim) to hold the divine blessings.  These are, of course, symbolic -- the "vessels" being things like daily prayer times, giving charity,  doing mitzvot, etc.  But symbols usually have some basis in the natural world.  Last week, that point was brought home to me in very physical way.

On Thursday afternoon, our water pump went out.  I had just finished watering the animals and the container gardens, turned off the faucet, then came inside to wash the eggs. When I turned on the inside faucet, nothing came out.  Did we blow a fuse?  I went downstairs, checked the circuit breakers -- even flipped the one for the pump on and off again -- still nothing.

So I shut off the circuit to the pump in case there was a short or bad connection (did not want to risk a fire), then came back upstairs and began figuring out how we were going to cope with having no water in a heatwave.  If the pump needed replacing, that was going to be an expensive repair -- and we are flat broke.   Luckily I have been collecting rainwater off the roof of the house and the coop for the garden and animals, so I had some backup on hand, but that wouldn't last forever.  I could haul water from the lake if necessary, but did not look forward to doing that in the extreme  heat.  As for drinking water, I drove into town and bought eight gallons in reusable containers from the self-service reverse-osmosis station at our local grocery.

Friday there was a forecast of rain, so I began gathering every bucket, jug, barrel, and other container I could find to collect rain water.  Suddenly the symbolism of the "divine outpouring" became very, very clear.  God's blessings are infinite, but our receiving them is limited by the "vessels" we have created to receive them.   This point is brought home in the biblical story of The Widow's Oil (2 Kings chapter 4), where the prophet Elisha tells a poor woman to collect all the jars and jugs she can from her neighbors, then begin pouring what little cooking oil she had into these jugs.  As long as she had empty jugs to fill, the oil kept coming.  When she ran out of containers, the blessing stopped, but she had enough to sell and pay off her debts.

In my case, no miracle was required, only a downpour of rain -- which came on Friday afternoon.  I put on my swim trunks (to let nature wash the sweat off me) and went out to tend my containers.  Rain was gushing off the roof , and as a bucket filled, I replaced it with an empty one and poured the water into a jug.  I was also very happy to see my main garden getting watered, because I really did not want to lose my vegetables.  The zucchinis, cukes, squash and tomatoes are just beginning to form, and it would be a real hardship to lose them.

When the storm ended, I had enough water to tide me over  the weekend.  My wife (who joined me for a shower in the rain) and I were also washed clean for the Sabbath.  Never in my life had a cold shower felt so good!    As of today (Sunday) the pump still is not fixed (we hope to figure out some financing tomorrow), I'm all sweaty and smelly again, but this experience did give me a very good story about spirituality.

Religious practice, and ritual in general, can be considered a form of container to receive and hold God's blessing. You might not feel deeply inspired every time you go to services or sit down to pray privately, but if you make room for a regular prayer time, you are more likely to receive inspiration than if you never bother to pray at all.  This is why we speak of "making" the Sabbath.   The blessing of the Sabbath is there every week, poured out freely for every Jew to receive.  But unless you make proper preparations -- to create a vessel to receive and contain it -- the blessing of the Sabbath escapes you.  And so it is with any spiritual practice.

(UPDATE:  I did get the pump fixed a few days later.  Turned out it was only a broken switch on the pressure tank, so not as expensive after all.  But this experience did provide me with some interesting insights.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guess I'll never be a Top Rated Seller on eBay again -- here's why

EBay is infamous for changing the rules on sellers, and they just did it again.  In addition to having good customer satisfaction, a seller must now offer 1-day handling on 90% of items in order to get the Top Rated Seller rating -- and the 20% discount on eBay fees that goes with it.  Problem is, as a Sabbath-observing Jew, I can't guarantee that orders will always go out within 24 hours  -- which is what "1-day handling" means.  So I'll never again see that reward.   Read on...

Since 2005, I have had a little store on eBay called The Happy Rooster where I sell, among other things, cruelty-free feathers and wildflower seeds.   If you check out my feedback there, you will see that, as of this writing, I've got 100% positive feedback and very good comments from my customers.  I also still have my Top Rated Seller status, even though I list my items as "3-day handling."  But that is about to change forever -- not because my quality of service will change, heaven forbid, but rather, because I observe the Sabbath.

You see, the Jewish Sabbath starts at 18 minutes before sundown on Friday and, in the wintertime, that is around 4 pm up here in the Northland.  There is simply no way I can package and ship a bunch of orders, make a trip into town to ship, then get home in time to have everything set up for the Sabbath.  This is why I've always said "3-day handling," to cover items ordered on Thursdays that won't go out until Monday.  There are also times when Jewish holy days come back-to-back with the Sabbath, creaitng a 3-day period when I do not do any business, period. 

My customers understand this and, as my feedback shows, there have been very few complaints.  Frequently, my items do get shipped faster, sometimes even within 1 day at the beginning of the week.  But orders that come in late on Thursdays simply cannot go out until Monday.  Bye bye Top Rated Seller perks.

EBay's rationale for this is that "Savvy online merchants understand that consumer expectations are evolving, and they are adapting to the world class services needed to compete." (Spring 2012 eBay newsletter).  In other words, people are getting extremely impatient and eBay wants us little cottage businesses to compete with Big Box stores that can afford to offer free shipping and have people working 24/7 to fill orders. 

But those same Big Box stores do NOT have cruelty-free feathers -- just try and find them in ANY commercial craft department.  (For more on what makes a feather cruelty-free, read my essay.)  Ditto for personalized and/or made-to-order items -- I'll bet the custom crafts people are having fits over this new policy, too.  Customers looking for hard-to-find specialty items are usually willing to wait a bit longer in order to get exactly what they want -- something the eBay executives apparently do not understand or care about. 

Frankly, I think that eBay is just looking for new excuses not to give out the incentive bonuses.   Why else would they change the rules on sellers like me, who already have 100% customer satisfaction? 

One eBay consultant suggested that I have my Thursday-Friday items picked up at the door instead of driving into town.  Sure -- if I charge $5.50 for Priority Mail, because the post office will not pick up First Class mail at the door.  But who is going to pay that much to ship a $2.00 package of seeds?  Nobody.  Not to mention that eBay now charges sellers fees on the shipping charges, too, which means I'd have to raise the cost of Priority to $6.00 to cover the 9% that goes to eBay.

So why do  I stick with eBay at all,  you ask?  I've tried other places, but I just don't get the traffic or the sales. And I really do need the money.   So, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, I guess I'll  just have to keep adjusting to the heat until eventually I'm cooked...