Aug 18, 2006

The Curious Case Of The Content Cicada

When you grow up without a lot of money, you learn a lot of things different from other people about survival, work, and fun. How to make soup stretch by using barley. Improvising cleaning products from ordinary household items. How to pad a resume. And the art of making fun out of the simple things.

As a child, I learned a lot of simple, fun things. One of the best was how to splash my brother with fresh cow dung by loading a homemade slingshot with a big fat ripe acorn and firing into the steaming pile at juuust the right angle, but I think the most important one was to look for the small things. It's no surprise to people who know me that I tend to notice the little things first, long before I see the Big Picture. I'm a hundred times more likely to see the inch-long pale green preying mantis stalking her careful way up a rose cane than the roses themselves. For a guy who can honestly admit to having heard the sound a butterfly makes when it flaps it's wings, this morning came as no surprise to me, in it's beauty and simplicity.

As I walked into the garage, looking out at the foggy morning, preparing to start Betty up and haul into work I couldn't help but notice a green, gossamer-winged bump on the driveway. A cicada was standing there, secure in the (mistaken) knowledge that he was on a very large, very flat grey tree. Cicadas spend a lot of their adult form time hanging onto tree branches, being very still and variegated green so as not to get eaten by birds and cicada wasps before they meet That Certain Special Someone, so this fellow was either new at the game or colourblind, thinking that patterned green and black was blending him in with flat grey and a few dead leaves.

When my brother and I were very young, a lot of our summertime fun came from cicadas. Cicada shells, actually, because they were free, plentiful, and strange things indeed to bug-crazy kids like us. Plus, they were marginally tough to find so they fit the "summer fun" bill perfectly. Each morning we'd take long tree branches and go a-wandering amongst the huge old oaks and pecans that dot the property, and we would cast our eyes up into the branches and along the trunks, desperate for the sight of a brown shell. Then we'd decide how high up it was, the proper method of approach, and we'd take those long sticks and gently pop the prized shell off it's branch, to add to our brown paper bag full of other discarded husks. And naturally this interaction with nature introduced us to the entire life cycle of a cicada; the just-emerged mud-brown bodies trundling across the wet ground in search of a tree trunk to scale, the just-emerging, pale, damp, ice-green adults with wings still rumpled and unformed from the shell's captivity, and the heavy, fully-formed adults, resplendant in their dark green articulated shells and silvery clear wings.

Armed with this knowledge from my childhood, I knew exactly how to pick up this green jewel without unduly bothering it, and without triggering it's ear-splitting shrill whistle if I were to disturb it too much. I cupped my fingers on each side of it's six legs and closed gently, and the cicada, sensing branches moving around it, obligingly lifted each of it's four strong legs and pair of powerful front claws and settled each onto a finger, and started, as I knew it would, to a higher point on the branch.

I had started walking it toward the fig tree at the end of the driveway because I knew it would offer a few more hiding places than the scattered gravel and tire tracks of the driveway, but the bug had a different agenda in mind. Having traversed my entire left hand determinedly, it began working it's way up my right hand, each sharp-hooked claw making little prickling sensations and indentions along my palm. I could see the determination in his wide-set glassy green eyes and the serious set of his antennae as I carried him. I knew our sojurn together wasn't going to last until the fig tree, so I just stopped there on the end of the driveway and watched.

He, knowing full well what he wanted to do, started mountaineering his way up my raised thumb. Upon reaching the end of my digit he, without further ado or much fuss, spread his wings and began his graceless, wobbling flight into the fog-damp branches of the oak tree. I watched his convoluted flight with a smile, not only from his clumsy antics. You see, as he took off, I had felt the tinest mist of dampness shaken off his wings, settling in a perfect miniature rainstorm onto the end of my thumb.

There are brief moments in rare days when I feel that I have attained the height of "living in the moment" of Zen Enlightenment.

This morning was one of those perfect moments.


Nancy Dancehall said...

Beautiful post, beautiful moment. Reading, I felt like I was standing there, watching the little guy take off from your fingers.

Tying it back to your childhood makes me think of Bradbury.

The Ivory Pen said...

I SO remember helping one of those gangly buggers. And the bags of (mushed) shells. You are bringing memories to us all.