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Posts Tagged ‘singing’

I was at a local garden when I happened to hear this bird singing. My bird identification skills are so weak at this point that I won’t even hazard a guess about what kind of bird he is (I seem to be wrong more than I am right, with the exception of really common birds like robins and cardinals). His song was pleasant, however, and his brown eyes were captivating. He was perched up high enough that the sky provided a clear background and the green leaves and bright red berries added some interest and color in the foreground, although they partially hide his body. I like the way the shot turned out and it required only a minimum amount of cropping.

I finally managed to get a decent bird image in relatively good focus. What happened? I’m learning that I need plenty of light with the camera and lenses that I have to get an optimal image and I need to avoid the extreme end of my telephoto zoom and aperture range too.  Most of all, I need to be really lucky.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend when I was out taking photos I was startled when I heard the very loud “singing” of a cicada really close to me. I glanced down and could see the cicada right in front of me, clutching a plant and visibly vibrating. I managed to get this shot of the cicada.

Cicada singing

I decided to do a little research on the cicada because I really don’t know much about them, except for the panic we had a few years ago when the 17-year cicadas were here. In the Wikipedia article, I learned about the different types of cicadas and how they produce the noise that is associated with them that can go up to 120 decibels, among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds.

One of the most interesting statements for me in the article was that, “The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity” and referred to a fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Why was this interesting to me? I love words and it’s fun to read words like “insouciance,” a word with which many people probably are not familiar. It comes from the French word for “care”or “concern” (souci) and “insouciance” usually refers to a carefree, light-hearted, nonchalant attitude.

Did I mention that I was a French literature major in college more than 35 years ago? In college I really liked the French classical literature of the 17th century and Jean de La Fontaine was a very well-known poet and fabulist of that period. (Now tell me, how often do you get to use the word “fabulist” (someone who writes fables)? “Fabulist”—it sounds like it should be something that you’d find in People magazine to know how a celebrity rates in being fabulous.)

I went looking for de La Fontaine’s fable about the cicada to learn more of its reputation for being insouciant. There are a lot of different translations from French into English of the short fable, but I decided to do my own translation to avoid copyright issues and to exercise my French skills.

Here is my translation of La Fontaine’s fable called the “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (“The Cicada and the Ant”).

“The cicada, having sung the entire summer,
Found herself strongly in need when the north wind blew,
Possessing not a single morsel of fly or worm.
She went to her neighbor, Madame Ant, to tell of her need,
Asking her to lend some grain so she could survive until the new season.
“I will pay you interest and principal before the harvest, animal’s oath,” she said to her.

Madame Ant, however, is not a lender, which is the least of her faults.
“What were you doing during the hot weather?” she asked the borrower.
—Night and day I sang to all those coming by, whether that pleases you or not.
—You were singing? I am so glad.
Well, dance now.”

We could have a fascinating intellectual discussion about the meaning of the fable, but I’ll leave that for another time. While I was doing research about the fable, I came across a really cool video of the fable on YouTube that was produced by Studio YBM. It’s a cartoon and is in French, but if you’ve read the fable it’s easy to follow. I don’t want to spoil the video for you, but I encourage everyone to watch it to see insects in snowsuits and hear the cicada performing as a hip-hop singer.

So, where do you see yourself in the fable? Are you more like the ants or the cicada? Are you insouciant or are you more like Madame Ant?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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