Jun 28, 2005

The Cicadas are coming!

Summer is officially here, again. The Cicadas are singing in the trees.

That is, at least one is. I hear him at work. Seems this eager fellow has found the one tree of any sort of size at all in our little courtyard thing out there, and every morning about 10 or so, when the heat gets up good and he starts to feel in fine voice he starts singing.

(That, and the black crickets are starting to arrive in their ultra-tiny form again, and I've been seeing nearly microscopic preying mantises, tiny light green bodies the size of a fingernail clipping, little legs nearly invisible, but this post is about cicadas, sorry.)

I was trying to find a good site with a clear recording of a cicada singing, but lacking time to really look, I settled for this site, which if nothing else gives you a lot of options to barely hear them. The reason I do this is because it was brought forcibly home to me years ago that not everyone in the world knows what a cicada sounds like, nor has ever been comforted by the sound of dozens of them singing in the gathering dusk, or played Frisbee or softball under the spreading limbs of an oak tree while their rustling drone played counterpoint to the slap of a ball hitting a warm leather mitt.

Yes, it's true. Not everyone knows what a cicada sounds like. I spent an airplane ride up to Oregon one year several years ago talking to a young lady who was returning home to Portland. It was her job in Louisiana to pack up the legal records of a closed sawmill and return them to the home office. Being a sawmill, and not, say, a shipyard, it was deep in the piney woods and it being most definitely summer the woods were packed with cicadas all singing for their mates. The poor child and her entourage had spent the entire week being utterly terrified out of their minds from what she termed "a horror show noise" in the trees, from what sort of tentacled, razor-fanged beastie they could not possibly fathom. She seemed rather let down when I told her that it was made by a dark green bug about the size of her thumb. I guess she was expecting some sort of extra-terrestrial creature come to suck their brains out their noses, and a wide-eyed insect with a body like an armoured beetle and wings like cellophane didn't really jibe with her fears.

I can recall the first summer night I spent in Oregon at my then-mother-in-law's house. It was deep summer there, the temperature was a staggeringly hot 75 at night, as opposed to our own Louisiana average evening temp of 90, and I lay there on the couch listening to the night wind blow (the windows were open, they had no A/C...can you believe it??) and I realised that even though I was exhausted, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and fretted until it finally hit me--it was quiet. Too quiet. There wasn't a single shrill cadence out there. No cicadas, because they are a warm-weather insect. It was simply too cold for them to live up there. Once it occurred to me that I wasn't going to hear that multi-voiced ringing choir in the trees I fell asleep immediately. Unhappy, but instantly.

I've spent my entire life around cicadas; my every moment outside in summer accompanied by their high-pitched singing, I collected their discarded dirt-crusted shells as a little boy until I had paper bags filled with musty, rustling husks. I've even done my fair share of school Science Fair projects on them. And looking back on my mis-spent youth, it pleases me how much I learned from simple observation. I have watched every stage of a cicada's 17 or so year lifespan; their white underground grub forms blindly working through the earth to eat roots, their steadfastly marching brown bodies crossing the yard after the rains had finally come to soften the ground, their semi-blind questing for a tree or fence post or any vertical surface to climb, the struggle to crack open that brown shell so the new form could emerge transformed, and then their jewel-like translucent pale green bodies clinging to the old shell, itself still clamped to the bark of a handy tree like a bulging-eyed mask of grim brown death. I have watched so many of them hanging from branches and trunks, looking like nothing more than pale jade earrings, patiently waiting for the morning sun to dry their still-damp bodies and gossamer wings to a dark green armour hardness so they can then spend one brief summer singing in the pine trees.

No comments: