With the help of the Merlin app, I’ve been learning to identify birdsong. I now recognize the most common birds that nest near my house; red-winged blackbird, belted kingfisher, American robin, house wren, Northern cardinal, Oriole, broad-winged hawk, crow, chickadee, and phoebe. I know some others, like juncos, sparrows, and nuthatches by sight rather than song.
Indoors, I’ve learned to identify the songs of the newer household appliances that complete their cycles with melody, like the dishwasher and washing machine. But the small appliances that beep, buzz and chirp like insects are harder for me to differentiate, in part because they sound like alarms. As soon as one sounds, I freeze until I can locate which appliance is telling me something and what it might mean. Only then am I reassured that nothing’s wrong: It’s just the electric kettle, toaster oven, or microwave shutting off, or the bread machine changing cycles, or the oven coming up to temp, or a timer announcing, Time’s up!
An Unidentified Chirp
Recently, I was already in bed, drifting off when I heard something like water hitting a metal roof. But it wasn’t rain, and I wasn’t getting up.
Hours later, Tim returned to bed.
“Something’s chirping. It’s coming from the dishwasher.” He flopped back to bed.
I padded into the kitchen, where the dishwasher’s LED is dark. No error light, no flashing, just chirping from deep inside the machine.
Barefoot, I head to the basement and flip the breaker. Silence. I turn off the lights on my way back to bed.
Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup.
I know the older sounds of my house.
It’s the water heater.
Back to the basement, where I see the “clean filter” light glowing red. I remove the filter. It’s pristine. It must be on a yearly timer. We’ve owned this appliance for more than a decade, and it’s the middle of the night when I’m first figuring this out.
I clean the filter anyway. Put it back. Push reset: the red light turns green. Back to bed. But the chirping hasn’t stopped. I plug my ears and sleep.
Tired, I wake to silence, which lasts until 9:14 pm. I’m reading a novel set in Beirut, where power is intermittent, but what bothers the narrator is the clanging of the pipes in her decrepit building. I have a modern house with an unidentified chirp.
Now the chirping is under the sink. I pull out the drawer, check with a flashlight. A mouse has been there, but no noise-emitting machine. I think, briefly, about pulling out the refrigerator, but I’m not up for what I might discover back there.
Again, the silence of dawn.
Super Blue Moon
That night, we step outside to admire the light of the Super Blue Moon. Is the newly landed Indian lunar explorer chirping up there? I tune my ears to the hum that sings the end of summer. And I know: It’s not an alarm, nor a malfunction, nor an appliance keeping me up. It’s a cricket singing for a mate.
The Super Blue Moon Over Vermont, 2023