Aug 19, 2010

Of Rain and Time and Travel

There's so much I want to tell you, and so little time. Also, so little focus. Focus, you see, has become a rare commodity in the person of your singular writer.

I want to tell you about traveling to Colorado. I want to tell you about my first train ride, behind a gorgeous streamliner F-unit engine. I want to tell you about meeting new friends and about eating new food and about breathing air at 10,000 feet above sea level. I want to tell you about work and about play and about Weerelephant using my old 35mm camera as her own. But maybe later. After I've had more time to let the jostling, jumbled up images and thoughts settle into a coherent whole.

How about I tell you about the cicadas?

There's a few things in anyone's life that you can point to and say "their life seems to revolve around that thing." A point of reference, a common thread that runs through their lives. Cicadas are one of those points of reference for me.

I spent my entire childhood and my adulthood thus far around them. Their sharp, angular songs lull me to sleep at night, and their presence in the air makes me think of my childhood--long hot summer days and long humid summer nights. I spent entire summers filling paper grocery bags with discarded shells carefully harvested from every tree I could find. The first summer I traveled to Oregon I lay awake on a soft mattress with the windows open and I could not sleep. I lay there and fretted and wondered until I realised: I couldn't hear cicadas. I spent a magnificent three hour flight on an airplane sitting beside a beautiful young woman who had come down from Washington for a job, who explained to me that she lay awake at night and wondered what that horrific sound in the trees was. I spent an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of those little green shrieking bugs.

Such an odd little thing. Born from an egg dropped from a branch they immediately dig into the earth to eat soft fresh roots. There they live and grow for up to seventeen years, hidden from the sun and the fresh air and the rains. That strange little lovely insect lies in the ground for seventeen years, then one day a bright spark in them says "DIG." They dig their way up and they find themselves on the surface and that bright spark in them says "CLIMB." They look for a place to climb. A tree. A bush. Anything vertical will do, they just know they have to climb. They find their vertical place and they climb and claw and work their painstaking, dirt-covered way up until something inside them says "STOP" and they stop, and get a good grip.

They spread their legs wide, dig sharp claws into whatever surface they're on, and they start pushing. They arch their backs and push and strain with everything they have in them until their old, restrictive, clear skin cracks down the back and then they're struggling, fighting, straining to get out before they lose all their strength and die there, half in, half out. When I was a kid I'd find perhaps one each summer like that--trapped in the opening of that old skin, legs still pushing even in death, forever tied to both the old life they just left and the new one they never quite began. I used to be so terribly saddened when I'd see them like that.

But sometimes I'd get to see one free of its old skin, clinging with delicate legs to that old husk, the discarded past, their old home for seventeen years living blindly underground, digging in the dark, never knowing what lay just above them. They'd be hanging there, a shade of pale green so faint that they almost looked white. They'd have their long, tapered wings held straight behind them, drying in the morning air, and if you waited long enough their pale damp white-green would slowly change to a deep emerald colour, and their soft, pliant bodies would dry and they'd be wrapped in vert armor, patterned with sable, hanging like a tiny droplet of potential in the soft dawn air.

They're singing right now. That sharp, vivid summer sound, right outside my window, filling the trees with night music. I'm going to sleep good tonight knowing they're out there, making tiny eggs that will drop from the tree limbs like miniscule raindrops, to seep into the earth and not to be seen again for seventeen years.

7 comments:

Joan of Argghh! said...

So perfectly lovely to see you here and read this!

Yes, I can hear them, too!

meno said...

Ah, i just returned from dropping my child off at college in Ohio, and the noise from the cicadas entranced me and transported me back many years to my childhood in Virginia.

I too collected their lovely skins clinging to the backyard oak trees. Along with praying mantis egg cases and fireflies in jars, cicadas are one thing i miss here in the Northwest.

Very nice sir, very nice.

Jean said...

I know no other who could write this beauty.

So glad to see you here and will patiently wait for more.

Irrelephant said...

Thank you, Joan! I know I've let this go too long, and I've genuinely missed it, and you all too.

meno, fireflies are the other thing that's a part of my childhood, but living as I do surrounded by fields the insecticides have just about eradicated them. I had to go to my grandparent's house in MS to see them, and catch them. Glad I could strike a familiar chord. *smile*

Jean, you shouldn't have to wait too long--I need to make a concerted effort to stay here. I need the mental exercise. Getting flabby! lol

Clowncar said...

hey, you're back!

I really like this.

here you rarely see actual cicadas, but their discarded shells are everywhere. as are their "angular songs" at night.

Gordo said...

Cicadas are part of the summer world here as well. I can't imagine being away from them. The world might as well be empty.

My Aunt and Uncle used to come back to the area every summer to stay at the family cottage just north of here. They came from E 96 St in Manhattan to a cottage in a village where the largest merchants were a Ford dealer and the local hardware store.

It always took my aunt 2 or 3 nights before she could comfortably sleep up here. The crickets would keep her awake at night.

Irrelephant said...

I'm back, more or less Old Bean. lol

I rarely see them in person, only early in the mornings usually, or very late at night.

Gord, they're up there? WOW!